Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Fran (my blog coach) sent this in an e-mail -- click -- it's a fun stairway exercise .

Fran knows I'm a dancing nut -- every once in a while, my husband and I meet in the hall between our offices and bow to each other, clasp hands above our heads, and dance a stately minuet, humming a tune we both know (but aren't sure if it's Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart).

Having seen the stairs in Odenplan, Stockholm, I searched YouTube, and found piano stairs in Tokyo -- found myself remembering the movie "Big" -- the great scene when Tom Hanks and his friend were dancing -- playing chopsticks on a giant keyboard at F A O Schwarz.

Whoosh -- memories of my piano lesson days came over me. I was going to be a concert pianist, or a doctor, or a ballerina.

Ah yes -- but my best friend, Harriet, was a natural at the piano. Her hands, her stubby fingers with pillows on the end of each finger -- those fingers said she was born to play. When Harriet played anything -- even without the pedal -- the keys had resonance -- her music filled the room.

Not so for Em. I loved to put Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the record player, and pretend I was playing it. Whenever I played the piano, I swayed -- let my body feel and display the emotions -- the ripples, the chords, and boy -- did I ever use the pedal!

When I read that pianists practiced for hours each day I was sure it was going to be my career. I knew once my piano teacher gave me a piece of music to play, I'd practice morning! noon! and night!

My piano teacher, Mrs. Gregg, with her huge, up-lifted, corseted front, was shaped like the prow of a ship, and gave orders like a captain, commander in chief. She had me playing Czerny scales, and dinky kiddie tunes. After I begged, she gave me a piece of sheet music -- Poldini's "General Bum-Bum." She said, "Practice it, memorize it, my dear, and you'll play it at the piano recital you and my students will be giving at my church."

I would have preferred to play Beethoven's "Fur Elise," but another one of her students had dibbs on that.

Alas, "General Bum Bum" was a boring march, with nothing for me to feel. The more I practiced, the dumber, the stiffer, the worse it sounded.

On the recital day, I was very nervous. As the hour approached I felt nauseous. Sitting in the church pew, waiting for my name to be called, I was shivering.

I marched down the aisle. Sat on the piano bench. My hands were chunks of ice but I proceeded to play "General Bum Bum" -- made no mistakes, but gee -- it sounded dumb, dead, stiff, awful.

Afterwards Mrs. Gregg folded me into her chest and said "Excellent, my dear. Next week I'll give you Poldini's Opus 79 to master. It's a lyric waltz, in three quarter time."

Mom said, "You played all right, dear" ' but I knew from my cold hands, shivering, and the wish I were dead feeling I had when I walked from the pew to the piano bench, sat, and put my hands on the keyboard, that I was not going to be a famous concert pianist.

Doctor was better. Ballerina was much better-- so it was after that performance that I set to work on convincing my father that I had to have ballet lessons.

Well, I danced in Tokyo ...

So, if I ever go back to Tokyo, or visit Odenplan, would I use the piano stairs?

Yes, I would! I'd like to do what Tom Hanks did in "Big."

After chop-sticks, with my feet on half-toe, I'd plunk out the opening of "General Bum Bum," thanking my lucky stars that I went for ballerina, NOT concert pianist.

1 comment:

Carola said...

What a wonderful idea. I loved the video. I always choose the stairs (for going up - I hate going down). Although I wouldn't like piano stairs in the airport after coming back from an all night flight - the noise would drive me nuts.
And thank you for the memories of your piano lessons. I always like to hear about your youth and young adulthood.

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