I believe I had a privileged upbringing because I had the opportunity to learn an instrument from the age of 9.
There is no greater joy for me than sitting at the piano and playing through a book of Sonatina’s or singing along to 100 Show Tunes. It might drive everyone else in the house and perhaps the neighbours a bit crazy but I am just transported – I have no idea what is going on around me and I am at peace. Until someone comes into the lounge, right in the middle of a pivotal moment and says “Hey Mum, can you make me a sandwich?”.
“Geez, Beethoven didn’t have to put up with this s^&*”, I think to myself....
My relationship with the piano has been a strange one. I love it as an instrument but I have hardly ever played it on stage. A lot of my songs, especially the 6/8 numbers have been composed on the piano and then adapted for the guitar. When I am performing on stage I prefer to concentrate on singing so am happy to let the great players in my band do their thing but lately I have had a hankering to get up on stage and take the piano for a drive.
There are two reasons I haven’t played the piano in public a lot. It’s to do with a ruler and Pavlov’s Dog.
My first piano teacher, who I won’t name because it is not polite to speak ill of the dead (and in truth I accept now that what happened to me happened in a time where the cane was still used in schools and thrashing little kids was condoned.) So to empower me and ensure I don’t give her memory any power - I have long since forgiven her behaviour and just feel grateful that I can play the piano at all.
From the perspective of the 9 year old Jan, my piano teacher was quite cruel and unnecessarily hard on me and if I could take my child self away from her then I would. But would I take away the ability to play the piano? No.
She had a wooden ruler and used to whack me on the back and across the knuckles if I made a slip up. That’s where Pavlov’s Dogs come in, you see. To this day if I play a bung note on the piano then in my minds recess, someone is about to hit mewith a ruler. (It’s probably not a good idea to bring rulers to any of my gigs) If I do play a rotten chord I tense up and get into a fuddle, but lately this hasn’t been happening. Must have grown out of the habit.
I recall vividly when she was teaching me theory that she would ask a question and I would answer something correctly, first time around, and then she would say I was wrong, and I would scramble around my brain looking for the right answer getting more flustered and scared.
“What is the name of that note?” she would say.
“Crotchet?” I would reply confidently.
“Quaver?” Whack. Not so confidently
“Semi Quaver” Whack. Quivering.
“Semibreve” Whack. I stopped talking and started snivelling
“Stupid girl” she would say “it’s a crotchet”
The memory that will always be foremost is the time I burst in to tears and I got a whackacross the back for getting tears on the piano. So I cried a lot more and then I got snot on the piano keys.
Whack whack whack whack whack whack…. She wouldn't stop. You get the picture
So yes by the time I left her charge I was not a confident piano player in public and although I have had other teachers over the years it has taken me a long time to get over my ruler syndrome.
Years later I told my Mum about this situation she asked me why I didn’t tell her. I have no idea why I didn’t. And it makes me wonder how much your kids do tell you.
I remember I used to make excuses to miss lessons and if she called me in foradditional lesson on a Saturday when we got closer to exams I just said ‘sorry’ I can’t make it I have tennis.
Hence I never did very well with piano exams.
I went to stay in Ruakaka with my friend Harriet once and we stayed with her grandmother and grandfather and they had a piano. Harriet’s grandmother or grandfather, I can’t remember which(strange what we remember. I remember the pot plant and the piano but I don’t remember who helped me) gave me some instruction along with kind words. Because of that I had polished two pieces for my exams by the end of the week. And it was easy.
When I returned to Ruler Teacher and played the pieces perfectly she said “See that is what happens if you practice”. Face palm.
I like that anti smacking law we have. I am glad adults can’t legally hit children.
If the anti smacking law was around when Ruler Teacher was laying into me she would have been breaking the law and I would have been able to do something about it.
Anyway, my next album has been written on the piano and some of the tunes will be played on the piano when the album is recorded. Not sure if it will be me but perhaps. It may be that the songs translate better without the piano but until we start the process it's a bit hard to know.
I will always thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to learn an instrument. I also know if they knew about Ruler Teacher then they would have stepped in.
One thing though - I will always question if ever my children start to avoid something they love.