Two years ago, I inherited the grand piano my grandparents gave Mom as a gift for her 14th birthday.
Growing up, I used to crouch on the upper staircase in my grandparents’ split entry, safely hidden behind the sofa flanking the bannister in the living room, to listen to Mom play the piano that now sits in my great room long after she thought I’d fallen asleep. The hardwood stairs didn’t have a scrap of carpet on them, so often, after Mom finally played the last notes of Brahms’ “Intermezzo,” I’d crawl to bed with bruises on my knees. But the next night, banged-up knees and all, I’d sneak out of bed as soon as I heard Mom open the piano bench and shuffle through the sheet music.
I took lessons from one of Charlotte’s most renowned teachers for more than 10 years (Mom taught piano professionally, but she and Dad decided that a teacher-student relationship would not be healthy for our mother-daughter relationship). I earned “superiors” at competitions and overcame my nervousness to perform in front of roomfuls of people at my teacher’s annual recitals, but I never loved playing the way I loved listening. I hated practicing; I never truly felt the notes beneath my fingers but for the oven timer in the next room, dutifully ticking off the mandated minutes of practice time. I learned to play my pieces perfectly but never passionately.
Mom stopped teaching lessons many years ago. My grandparents sold her childhood home – the sad event that precipitated my early inheritance of a grand piano that gave my mother, and secretly me, so many hours of pleasure. Its sweet notes no longer dance within the walls of that house. Now, they dance in mine. These days, out of practice and nearly 15 years removed from all that formal training, I don’t come close to perfection. But without a competition or a recital or an oven timer looming over my head, for the first time in my life, I play with passion.
I think my sister would have played with passion had she been given the chance to play. Taylor loves music more than any other thing. Thankfully, Batten disease has not succeeded in stealing her ability to listen. Listening, to music and to life around her, is Taylor’s window to the world.
Batten disease robbed Taylor of the chance to take piano lessons and so much else. But music has done so much to enrich my life and the lives of people I love. Thanks to a dedicated group of piano teachers in Raleigh, the city in which I used to secretly listen to my mom play late at night all those years ago, it has helped advance the fight against the disease that will take my little sister away from me.
September is National Piano Month. If you play, thank a piano teacher. If music has touched your life or the life of a loved one in any way, embrace it!
The sound is in the piano…the music is in us. –Suzanne W. Guy