Lessons Learned from Gram's Piano
I wrote my thoughts down first when my grandmother graciously bequeathed her piano to me as she knew how much I loved it, and her, by extension. Now that she is gone, I’ve realized that her gift serves as a physical reminder of her presence and impact on my life. I’m so glad that I had 43 years to learn from her example, grow from her wisdom, and poke fun at her ditziness.
Kay, or Gram as we all call her, gave me her beautiful baby grand piano to have as my own about a year ago, as her severely arthritic fingers prevented her from playing her beloved instrument any longer. She hoped that it would renew my commitment to playing, and would inspire my kids to play.
At the time that she gave me the piano, her world was beginning to change radically. Not only did she give away an instrument that had stood prominently in her home for over 50 decades, but she understood that it was time to release her strong hold on the independence she had treasured for so long. A series of injuries sustained from falls, a long stint with shingles, and her increasing vertigo made it important to make the tough decision and move to an assisted living facility. As she blessedly moved into this safer, more controlled environment, I felt grateful that she was still close by and healthy, but also conflicted with sadness for the times that had passed. The wonderful memories of family dinners in the "formal" dining room (does anyone even have those anymore?), holidays spent together in a home bursting at the seams with love, and playing piano for my family in Gram's living room were done forever. There were more than a few tears shed, as you can imagine. I remember how the music swelled to fill the vaulted ceilings of the room, and how she would always come sit down and enjoy the song, no matter how badly I played it. Of course, the trade-off was that she knew the music so well, no matter what I seemed to play, that she would also count out the measures, clap the appropriate beat, start up the metronome (what a ghastly device!) and point out the errors. . . .
Gram's piano was and is a symbol of what she means to me. It was a place of comfort and fun – I used to play with my cousins and brother for hours under it, building the most elaborate forts. It was a safe place – the most awesome nap spot and doll house ever. It was an observation nook – where I would observe the way my grandparents interacted when they didn't think I was watching. And at times it was the source of frustration, as I was required to practice at its keys 2X/day, early in the morning and right after school, through ALL my school days until high school graduation, and my senior piano recital "freed me" from its bonds.
At Gram’s piano bench, I was taught by the relentless practice and dogged discipline to create a thing of beauty – a skill and talent that I could be proud of for the rest of my life. Her beliefs in working hard and sacrificing to achieve greatness were shaped by her upbringing during the Dust Bowl/Great Depression era, and could be seen in the way that she played in the Salina orchestra well into her 80’s, and her gorgeous cross stitch pieces, which won prizes right up until last year in the Art is Ageless competition. She encouraged me to stretch myself and be disciplined enough to chase, pursue and persist at being great at the piano, and at other difficult things in my life. I gained not only the ability to play piano with a high level of skill (which was not much revered or bragged about in high school), but also the realization that discipline is key in life. Piano taught me that to be good at something, you had to put the time in, push yourself even when you (at times) desperately want to give up, and to keep returning to the bench each day to hone your developing skills.
Now when I sit down to play, I am brought back to the sweetness of childhood, to the knowledge that my grandmother saw my dedication and love for piano, and rewarded it with an amazing gift. I realize that the sacrifice of childhood play time long ago has blossomed into something beautiful – both a family legacy and a gift that I can give to others forever.
"Piano taught me that to be good at something, you had to put the time in, push yourself even when you (at times) desperately want to give up, and to keep returning to the bench each day to hone your developing skills."
I may not be playing at my grandmother's house any longer, but when I come to the bench in my own home, it will always take me back to those achingly poignant memories. Each time I listen to Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Chopin mazurkas, or Bach minuets, I’ll think of her influence on my life, and I’ll be thankful that she created in me a love for music. Her piano will keep her memory alive in my heart forever. I’ll keep tickling the ivories for you, Gram, and I’ll always play with your presence beside me at the bench.