When I was eight, my ultimate goal in life was to join the Beatles.
My father had different priorities. Not only was he immune to the charms of the electric guitar, he downright detested the Fab Four. In fact, the surest way of getting an unwelcome trip to the barbershop was to mention their names.
One afternoon, in Grade 4, the teacher handed us a note to take home. It was an advertisement for piano lessons after school. I was aghast. Piano lessons? The piano was for sissies. Real men played the guitar. I deposited my copy in the nearest wastebasket. No need to burden mom and dad, I decided thoughtfully. Unfortunately, my brother took his note home. The next afternoon I was dragged off to my first piano lesson.
I don’t know if it ever occurred to my dad, but it seemed odd to get lessons when we didn’t have a piano. Apparently we weren’t alone, because the teacher handed out cardboard keyboards to everyone in the class. Any child of the 1960s will remember the new math. New-style educators created a whole generation of kids who couldn’t add or subtract to save their lives.
Well, this was another educational breakthrough: the new piano. Since there was only one piano and 20 students, we were all expected to practice on those cardboard mock-ups. In fact, none of us even touched a real piano while we learned on the cardboard keys. The idea was to practice silently and then transfer our new-found skills to the ivory 88 like butterflies emerging from our cocoons.
At first, I found it frustrating. But soon, whenever mom played her piano records, I would play along, my hands practically dancing on the cardboard. The folks were impressed. “We have a prodigy,” dad asserted.
“He’ll be a young Liberace!” mom added.
For some reason, dad was stridently against that idea. “No candelabras! He can be another Mozart.”
Mom relented and I went back to practicing. A few weeks later dad bought an old piano. It was time to emerge from my cocoon. “Play some Chopin. Brilliant and loud so everyone can hear!”
It was loud all right — but not brilliant. Like everyone else in my class, I didn’t have a clue. After several minutes of cacophonous clatter, mom kindly suggested I try Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. There was no twinkle and I was no star. Even Row, Row, Row Your Boat quickly sank. New piano, like new math, was an abysmal failure. I went back to pleading for a guitar.
A few weeks later dad compromised and brought me a mandolin. A mandolin? Seriously? Try playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash on a mandolin with missing strings.
Dad eventually gave in and bought an old acoustic six-string. By the time I learned a few chords it was abundantly clear I was no Beatle either. I morosely turned back to the piano. And, after many years, I finally learned to play it. Yes sir, nowadays I can really rock out on Itsy Bitsy Spider. So if anyone wants to get a band together, I’m ready. Just call me Amadeus!