A childhood music teacher of mine once told my parents that, of their three children, I was the one who possessed talent.
There was only problem, he said. And then he told them I lacked the discipline to ever play an instrument well.
And he was right because, by junior high school, I had taken piano, drum, trumpet and trombone lessons without having learned how to play any melody on them in a manner that brought music to the ears.
I had tried out for the band in seventh grade and was not offered a chair after a different music teacher walked away, having only listened to me attempt to play a few bars of a Herb Alpert tune on the brass. Today I remember seeing him then rolling his eyes and having had an expression on his face as if he wanted to plug his eardrums.
That audition came after my having spent two years in elementary school taking Saturday morning piano lessons in the dank basement of an old bank building in Donora, Pa. I walked more than a mile, across the Monongahela River on the wobbly Donora-Webster Bridge to find old Miss Watkins seated on one of her piano benches, with my lesson grade book in hand.
She would sit there beside me, passing small farts, often, between my attempts to balance nickels on the back of my hands while playing her assignments on the piano. To be polite, I pretended not to hear her flatulence. She then licked and pasted small stars in my book in colors that indicated I had poor or, sometimes good, skills on the keyboard before she sent me home.
Nonetheless she taught me how to read music, a skill that set me above my classmates when yet another music teacher periodically arrived at Lebanon Elementary School. Yes, I boasted to my classmates there, I could easily identify the notes on the scale that went along with the phrase, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.”
Miss Watkins had wonderfully imprinted in my brain the ability to look at music notes and then find them on any number of instruments. It’s a skill that has survived even to this day.
So, flash forward - into my forties – on the day I decided to return to the piano. I found a century-old hardwood piano in the local newspaper classified advertisements, purchased it and found a mover to take it home.
It took eight husky men to carry that Krakauer Bros. of New York piano with hand-carved decorations up the steep hill to my house.
One them, out of breath, uttered, “I’d better see you in the orchestra next year,” after the movers had set that piano in place in my front hall.
My immediate goal was to learn how to play the pretty piano solo accompanying Patsy Cline in her hit, “Crazy.” Much to my surprise, I soon learned the song had been written by Willie Nelson and his sheet music did not carry the notes in the Cline tune.
Still, I practiced and practiced and learned how to roughly play about half of "Crazy" before shutting the keys on what soon became a dusty piano.