The World At My Fingertips

I wanted to write about something that has brought me a lot of joy lately – my piano lessons.

A few months ago, I decided to continue my music education, and signed up for jazz piano lessons. My teacher is a sweet, 81-year-old lady. Don’t let her age fool you though. When she plays the piano, she plays with vitality. I decided to enroll with her not only because she reminded me of my piano teacher growing up (coincidentally also an elderly woman, who, random fact, smelled nice, and is probably the reason I like the smell of grandmas who wear powder/perfume), but also because she had a gentle, kind demeanor.

A bit of a backstory may be needed here. Why jazz piano, you ask? Well, growing up I took up classical piano for 12 years. Throughout the latter part of high school, college and into my young adult life, I rarely had the opportunity to play the piano, and when I did, it was a nice escape into my younger years. A sort of daydream, almost. I never thought I would venture back into taking lessons, but after missing the opportunity to take jazz piano lessons in college, and after the nudging of my mom to take it up here in the Philippines, I decided to seize my chance!

I go to my lessons twice a week, and look forward to it. I’ve found it makes such a difference when you shift your perspective. Growing up, I had lessons once a week and would often not practice between lessons. Now I look forward to finding the time to practice, and look forward to going to class. I know now how valuable it is to be able to receive education in something that adds color to your life, that will keep you company into your later years.

Now that I’m learning jazz and improvisation of popular songs, I’ve had to let go of the rigidity and structure of classical piano. Of course there is still structure to the pieces I am learning, but I am much freer to play as I wish. Importantly, I am also LEARNING how to be freer. It’s easy to stick to the scoresheet, but not so easy to be whimsical, to let your feelings dictate the notes. The first time my teacher asked me to improvise a piece during a lesson, I hesitated, because I thought she would judge me. Now, a few lessons later, I laugh whenever I feel pressured to improvise, because what else can you do? I just laugh about it, and she joins in my laughter because she knows how this is still new to me. More and more I am learning to be comfortable with freedom and the unknown.

She may be 81 years old, but my teacher is young at heart. Today we spent 20 minutes after class discussing movies she used to watch from the ’50s. How she visited the Empire State Building in New York to compare the real thing with what she saw in An Affair to Remember. All her students love her, and she now has multiple grandchildren. A photo of her entire family sits atop her piano, along with photos of her and her students. Multiple posters hang in her classroom describing the joy and responsibility of being a teacher. She plays me arrangements she put together of songs her late husband loved. How beautiful, that she is still playing and teaching into her old age. Piano has probably been the love of her life.

Part of me until now has struggled to figure out what it is I “love” to do. What determines what I love to do? Does it have to be something I was born with? Not necessarily. Music is something I love. Though it may seem “inorganic” because my parents started me with piano lessons when I was 5, an age when I probably didn’t know any better, piano playing has grown to be something I adore. It brings me back to my childhood, it brings me back to centuries ago when the pieces were composed, it brings me back to the decades the songs I now improvise are from, it brings me back to the present, to enjoying life now. What a wonderful thing music is, and how lucky we are to be able to listen to and create it!

I’ve probably rambled on enough, but if there’s anything I’d like for you to take away if you’ve bothered to read this far, it’s this: the things that brought you joy as a child, please keep them alive. It’s probably one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.

xo

J

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