Playing The Piano

I started taking piano lessons when I was about seven years old.  We lived on Chicago Blvd. in the parsonage.  Mrs. Fowler was our teacher.  I remember her as a stern older woman who, according to my cousin, sometimes smashed her fingers on the keys when she kept making mistakes.  I think of the room with the piano as the “Morning Room”. Maybe that’s what my mother called it. There was wall paper with fruit on it. My music book was “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” and I learned 3 note pieces with words like “Here we go, up a row, to a birthday party.”  When played in a different order it became the piece “Dolly dear, Sandman’s here.  Soon you will be sleeping.”  I must have practiced between lessons because I remember being used as a good example to my cousin Barbara one time.  The piano must have belonged to the church because when we moved, it stayed there.

The piano I took lessons on behind Henry and the cello.
The piano I took lessons on behind Henry playing the cello.

Several years later we were living in the upper flat on Calvert.  I told my mother I wanted to take piano lessons again.  She bought the used upright piano in the photo above. We all signed it on the inside of the flap you rest the music on and raise to get at the insides. Our new teacher was Mr. Manderville, the church choir director at that time.  He was my parents age and went in more for mean, sarcastic remarks as opposed to banging your fingers on the keyboard. I wanted to play “Comin’ Through The Rye” but he wouldn’t assign it and, for unknown reasons, I didn’t just learn it on my own time.

The only piece I remember by name was “The Wild Horseman”. I remember it as a complex piece that I played exceptionally well. Sort of like this.

Well, maybe I wasn’t quite that good, but in my memory, I am every bit as good. Eventually I told my mother I didn’t want to take piano lessons any more. She was not happy with that and mentioned buying the piano at my request so I could take lessons. She did let me stop. My mother played the piano much better than I ever did. She played it often after that.  Pieces of classical music she played on the record player and those she played on the piano have become confused in my mind now.  I will have to ask my sister what she remembers.

Another part of the prompt is pictures within the picture. You will notice three pictures on the wall and one of my sister and me on the piano, in my photo above.

35 thoughts on “Playing The Piano

  1. Oh this brings back memories — and not all positive. I remember playing Claire de Lune (sp)? I remember freezing at a recital that I had practiced for so much, only to totally blow it and have my grandmother tell me I should have practiced more. One of my friend’s parents invited me for ice cream after the recital “fail.” I also remember that the piano teachers wanted me to curtsy and laughed at me because I couldn’t seem to do it.

    In high school, I took up the cello. What a beautiful instrument. The nuns who lived in the convent above the practice rooms told me later that I made them absolutely CRAZY when I practiced “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” over and over. You really triggered some memories.

  2. I feel certain you were every bit as good as this fellow… I believe I recognize the metronome there on the piano as the same one Sydney occasionally uses to practice the recorder… next time we find ourselves in the presence of a piano you will have to give us a recital…

    1. It is the same metronome! I’m afraid I remember nothing about playing the piano, although I could probably play “Here we go, up a row to a birthday party” by ear.

  3. This story brings back memories for me as well. I started playing piano when I was 6 years old. My teacher would whack my fingers with a stick when I made a mistake or didn’t so what i was suppose to do. I got mad at her one day and snatched the stick out of her hand and threw it over the piano. I actually didn’t get punished for that, as my father told the teacher she needed better manners with the students. I played in recitals first then did concerts. I can’t say I enjoyed playing at the time, probably because it wasn’t my idea but later after I quit for a while I decided I wanted to start up again so i got a piano and I play again now. I’d like to know why the piano teachers thought that cracking your knuckles with sticks was a good idea.
    I enjoyed your story, I’m pretty sure you still can play it seems to be something you don’t lose, you just get rusty.

  4. Lovely post about your piano lessons. I too had many lessons, not on piano but viola and saxophone.

    1. I took violin and viola for a short period of time in elementary school. I didn’t practice much and finally stopped. I used a school violin.

  5. I had piano lessons too, but I detested recitals. My teacher was wonderful and patient. She was also a stickler for music theory, so I worked my way through many a Schaum music book.

  6. My elder brother, Blue had the piano lessons, i came years later i think violins were the instrument of the day LOL. Piano teachers are always “stern” at least according to Blue. I remember him remembering that most about his experience with Ms. Ballard. Maybe it was because the student needed to understand ‘discipline’ was necessary to master the piano. 😉 Joy was probably a distant second. LOL Blue went on to rely on his gift of playing by ear and became a singer/songwriter and founded the Manhattans with four of his best buddies. Maybe Ms. Ballard deserves some credit :). Thanks Kristen, you are helping me to remember the sweet little tidbits about our lives.

    1. Maybe they were simmering with anger because they wanted to be concert pianists and here they were teaching ungrateful little wretches who did it all wrong.

  7. OK…you can be honest with me. Was your playing sort of like his or just like his? Nice piano playing.

    1. I was Junior High age and I remember it pretty much like that. I was surprised when I heard the other players on youtube because they weren’t at all how I remembered the piece sounding when I played it.

  8. What an awesome memory! I always wanted to learn how to play the piano, but I also love the sound of an organ! Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory. I love the photo!

  9. My grandmother had a piano, and I think my mother had unpleasant memories of playing that. I think that was the reason she didn’t want me or my sisters to learn to play.

  10. You made more progress than me, though I distinctly remember practising, somehow it wouldn’t stick. Clever you again to match the theme in more ways than one as well as being first off the mark.

  11. Great post. What fun to remember those days. I didn’t get a chance to take piano lessons till High School. Loved it but soon went off to college and forgot all about the piano. I think I had more fun with saxophone in the marching band anyway. Sounds like you may have been a Methodist minister’s kid to me. The story about the parsonage and moving away. That fits the profile.

    1. No, my father was a Congregational minister at the time. My parents were divorced when I was 8 and we moved with my mother several miles away to a two family flat. Here is a post I did about the church

      My oldest daughter played clarinet with the marching band in Middle school.

  12. Oh, my goodness! John Thompson series, eh? Me, too. I remember something dreadful called “Lightly row, lightly row, oe’r the glassy waves we go…” that I really disliked; also one called “Under the Willows,” about swans, I think. Stuck it out for a long time; I don’t have a piano any more (haven’t for about 30 years) and never play. Anyway, great post — something we ALL seem to have in common!

  13. A perfect photo for this weekend’s theme, Kristin. The cello is my favorite instrument in the string family. Did Henry play in an ensemble or orchestra?
    And have you identified the pictures in the picture too?

    1. Henry played in the All City Orchestra when he was in High School in Detroit (Northwestern High School) He also played in a band put together with brothers, friends and cousins around town. I’m not sure if he played the cello at these gigs. I will have to look.

      The photograph on the piano is of my sister and myself around Christmas 1968. From top to bottom, the photos on the wall are; A scene of Lake Idlewild taken from the patio. 1950s, I think. The middle one is of Henry taken in the early 1960s at the house on Old Plank Road. The bottom one is Idlewild, looking away from the lake at Louis Cleage’s beach.

  14. A perfect photo for this week’s theme. My mother didn’t think I had any musical talent, so instead I had to go to elocution lessons, which I hated!

  15. In elementary school I wanted to play the violin in the school orchestra, but the violins were all taken so I was given a cello. The only trouble was, in order to practice at home, I had to carry it 4 1/2 blocks uphill with my books and lunch pail because my mother didn’t drive at that time & it wasn’t long before I gave it up. When it came her turn, my younger sister got to play the violin, however. I remember when she started to practice at home we all suddenly had to go somewhere – Mom, out to the garden; me, on a walk. Not sure where my brother went, but he didn’t stay in the house! I can still ‘hear’ the jagged squeak and squeal of her bow across the strings as we all rushed to vacate the house. As I recall her violin playing didn’t last all that long.

  16. My wife had piano lessons when she was a girl. However we have never had on. Our children had recorders. clarinette and a drum kit. I wonder what happened to them.

  17. When I was a teenager I played ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ over and over – I loved it. It must have driven my parents batty but they never told me to stop.

  18. Spent a fortune on piano lessons for the Lad and he can’t even whistle in tune. We still have the piano – it makes a good stand to put family pictures on.

  19. Great picture!! And I’m sure you played it even better than in the video.
    I never played but the music school was just behind my home
    and I often longed to play, but it was not in the cards for me…

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