Friday, April 24, 2009

Sharps and Flats

I have signed up for piano classes. Why? Well, the most obvious reason being that my piano at home is developing muscular atrophy from disuse. And because I thought that it was high time I learned something fun apart from how to walk straight after an evening at the pub.

Mind you, the search for a piano teacher has been a longer and more treacherous road than you can imagine. I have come across piano teachers who only teach children below the age of 6…yeah I know, the kids would have to hold the milk bottle in one hand and play the piano with which ever was their non milk bottle holding hand. There was the teacher who promised to teach me to play but balked when I asked if she would provide the music books. She apparently taught her students to play without teaching them to read music!! Then there was the guy who promised to teach me to play but for what he was charging, I could hire a 10 member orchestra to serenade me every night! And how can I forget the woman who came so highly recommended. She wanted a joining fee and if I missed more than 3 classes in the ENTIRE YEAR, I would have to pay the joining fee again and a penalty fee…man, learning dentistry wasn’t this complicated or expensive.

My personal favourite though are the ones who say they teach the piano but what they actually teach is all versions of the keyboard. There is a difference my friends. One is the granddaddy of all music and the other is his pipsqueak bastard son. And so one morning I trudge all the way to Santacruz to check out this guy who says he can teach me the piano in 3 months flat. I walk into his room to meet him (he’s got dodgy eyes and all his fingers have rings with colored stones…my shackles are up immediately) and look around for the piano. In a room that is all of 50 sq ft, it should not be too hard to spot a piano, but no I still cannot see it. He then with a flourish unfurls a gunny sack that is covering a bundle on the floor to reveal a keyboard the size of a harmonium! No wonder he was going to teach me the ‘piano’ in 3 months…this instrument didn’t have more than 20 keys, each of which was smaller than my thumb and all combinations of these keys could be covered in five days flat.
“This is your piano?” I asked aghast.
“Madam, I never said piano, I said piano like,” he replies slowly, enunciating each word like he is talking to someone with an IQ of 30.
I know I have problems with memory ( I can rarely remember the things that I do wrong), but I am sure that I would remember if he had said “piano like”…though later a careful review of my hazy memory would throw up a sentence that he did say – Madam, I will teach you the piano like in 3 months.
If only I had then known where he put his punctuations in that sentence, I could have saved myself the trip.

I finally found a music school attached to a well known college close to home. It’s great because it makes me sound uber cool when I say that I am part of a music school; people mistakenly think that I can actually play an instrument. It’s also great because the school focuses on theory as well as practicals and so when I’m done from here I should be able to play anything including the telephone directory.

And so I show up for Day 1 piano class all excited and a bit over dressed. I climb up to the 4th floor on high rickety wooden stairs, praying that it does not end up being the case that I learn the piano but in the process break my neck. There is no esthetic quality to playing Beethovan in a neck brace. I finally totter up panting like a rabid dog. It takes me a while to finish the registration formalities because I need to gasp for breath every thirty seconds and blot the sweat that is dripping onto the tissue thin paper. The girl there finally asks me if I want some water. I nod gratefully and take huge gulps out of a bottle that looks like it’s been there since 1995 and that I wouldn’t normally cross the road to avoid.

Finally my tutor arrives. All my secret hopes of having a gorgeous guy teach me sweet music flies right out the window. She is youngish, looks strict, talks tough and does not crack a smile even when I trip on the uneven tiles on the floor.
“Can you play at all?” she asks, her whole body sighing with the question.
“Only a bit. I mean, I did learn but when I was very young,” I reply. And because she still looks at me as if I have not answered her question, I feel forced to continue, “I play a little by ear.”
“Okay, play something,” she commands.

Okay, so I have several problems with this. One, I can play only two measly tunes and not very well at that. Two, I learned both by myself by ear and so they sound like a nursery rhyme version of the original thing. Three, I get disoriented on any piano apart from my own, which really should not matter because, four, I have not played any piano in over a year.
I play Love Story. I play it very very badly. Nerves. And sweat.

“Did you put that together yourself or did someone help you with it?” she barks.
Er no, I butchered it all by myself, I want to say.
“It was very good,” she said.
That’s the good thing about joining a beginners’ class. Most other students play their first piece by banging their fist on the keys.
I bask in her compliment and beam. She still does not smile.
“But your finger notations are hopeless, wrist position is poor and you slouch,” she continues. Sigh, some people just don’t know how to compliment graciously. But then, she probably favours the truth.

Most of the class comprises of me practicing some finger exercises on the keys. While my brain understands what my fingers need to do, there seems to be some break down in communication between the two and hence my fingers do exactly what they want despite my brain screaming – stop that noise and learn to listen to me. It requires so much concentration that I can either play or breath. I definitely cannot do both together. One look at my tutor’s face and I forget about the breathing.

Midway through the class, the door opens and the cutest guy I have seen in a long time walks in. Dimples, gorgeous smile, crew cut, white t-shirt, blue jeans, a walk that is like a groove to a beat that only he can hear. Hmmm, I think, here is the reason I was destined for this class. At the end of the day, nothing motivates me quite like a cute guy. My vivid imagination is already conjuring images of us making sweet music, sitting side by side, elbow by elbow, at a baby grand (ofcourse, this is once I have mastered the art of breathing and playing simultaneously). Maybe we’ll even get together to practice after today’s class.

He smiles at me. I grin back, all cool and everything.
“Where’s the guitar class happening?” he asks my teacher.

And I tumble back to earth with a cry. Damn damn damn. Why do all the cute ones want to learn the guitar? I hide my disappointment by attacking the piano keys with a vengence. I learn half a book (don’t be impressed, it is a pre-beginner’s book…whatever that means…I suspect it is for 3 year olds). Finally I am playing the pieces correctly. I even try to move to the music (thank you Elton John) but it is impossibly difficult to head bang like a pop star to Old MacDonald, especially when I am still not breathing.

I come away from Day 1 feeling a bit like a driver who has just learned how to drive and cannot believe that he is driving without leaving injured bodies in his tyres’ wake. I am reading the notes right and playing them right, but it’s a surreal experience because I still know for sure that I cannot read music or play.
“Never mind,” says my un-smiling tutor when I confide in her. “You’ll know you can play when you’re up on stage performing.”
“Stage? Performing? There is something wrong with these words??” I stutter. Why on earth should I be on stage subjecting people to slow torture.
“Oh, didn’t you know?” she asks with raised eyebrows, “We’re a music school and we have an annual show when our students perform for a large audience.”
Being on stage is my idea of death. She looks at the unadulterated fear on my face and she finally smiles.
My mind is already reviewing excuses to get out of this disaster. Illness, especially carpel tunnel syndrome sounds great. Or maybe a small finger fracture. Let’s see, I have a year to plot my desertion.

I am supposed to practice atleast twenty minutes a day between my weekly classes. The first day just as I am about to open my piano, I remember that I have to water my dying plants and get sidetracked with the important business of saving life (the plant truly and completely dies the following day!). The second day it is reading a book that I had just gotten my hands onto. I mean I have three days to return the book and five more days to practice the piano. It is a no-brainer, duh. Finally in that entire week I practice all of ten minutes. Like my tutor says as she frowns and rolls her eyes (it’s more difficult than it sounds)– hopeless.

I can only hope that the next time you and I meet, I will be playing beautiful pieces effortlessly (that’s Preeti speak for minimum practice!).

Note: To be a piano maestro extraordinaire it takes about ten thousand hours of practice. I am only trying to figure out how many lifetimes this will mean for me…


Abhi said...


I plan to join drums classes soon. Lets see how that turns out (more like how that happens, since the aforementioned planning has been going for greater than 6 months now)

Gradwolf said...

headbanging to Old Macdonald? What a great idea!

And hey, we thought all the sesky(!) girls like the guitar wielding guys!

Preeti Sharma said...

Abhi - Join soon or before you know it the desire will disappear completely. Besides I think girls dig guys who drum, so that's always a plus point.

Gradwolf - All girls, sesky and otherwise like guitar wielding guys. I propose that the guitar and piano classes should be combined for a more holistic approach to learning them!! insturments!!

Gauri said...

piano classes...awesome first step gurl :)

I've been wanting to get back to learning an instrument for years and cannot agree with you more on how impossible it is to find a tutor who is, well ready to teach without a million terms and conditions;)

Now that you've found one am sure you'll have a great time !!

sanely insane said...

ha ha ha...

but u have a piano at :)

Preeti Sharma said...

Gauri - Yes, good teachers (affordable and not psychotic) are a dying breed.

Sanely Insane - I have a 24 year piano. It usually serves as a bar counter when guests are over!!!

Cris said...

Gee now I have hope that I just might learn to play the violin one day. I have been toying with the idea and saving a 3-string violin for years to have one ready when I finally start.

Call me on your stage performance day. I will drop by if I am in the nieghborhood

Preeti Sharma said...

Cris - My music school offers violin classes, so you know where to find a good teacher. The performance will be next year, though the fewer people around to hear me make a fool of my self, the better!!

Mama-mia said...

you are trying to learn least!! me, i dont even bother! sigh!

awesome post preeti! but then you know that! :p



Silverstreak said...

Ah you can do it!

I'm hoping you meet cute guy again. :)

Sathish said...

So you did went to the second class??