I started piano lessons when I was six. I can still see my mom at the corner of Vaughan Avenue and Grove Street (Northwest Detroit.) She was calling my name, and she told me “Rosemary they just delivered our piano,,,,,run!” So that is what I did-- run, to find a beautiful brown Baldwin spinet in our living room.
Initially my mom took lessons, but with family responsibilities, no time for lessons or practice. One evening at dinner, my Dad asked me and my brothers, “who is going to take piano lessons?” My brothers’ hands didn’t shoot up, so I said yes.
That started my long relationship with my favorite instrument. My first teacher was our parish organist. He was a taskmaster, rapping my hands with a wooden stick when my hand position wasn’t correct. As an outspoken child, I told my mom…and quickly moved on to another teacher.
In 7th grade when I found my dream piano teacher, Katherine Lemon. I took lessons from her through 12th grade. She was an Oberlin graduate, and very accomplished. I began to dream of a career as a piano teacher, and professional musician. My senior year I played a Debussy Prelude in my final piano recital, and to my surprise, I only played one or two incorrect notes. I had just told my teacher a few weeks earlier, that I wasn’t sure I had the ability to be a piano teacher, and that I was thinking of law school.
During my first year of college, I took piano lessons through the school of music. My teacher criticized my playing and told me I didn’t have the right type of thumbs to be a pianist. I was heartbroken and quit lessons after a semester. I didn’t even play the piano in our dorm lobby. I boxed up my love for the piano and my musical dreams.
When Sarah and Michael were little, my mom called me one day and asked me whether I wanted our little Baldwin piano. I thought, maybe I would start playing again even though I told my mom that I didn’t think I could play anymore. My mom firmly responded “no, Rosemary, you need the piano, and eventually it will save you many times in life.”
You know my mom was right. I spent the 1990s playing all kinds of Disney music. I played the Winnie the Pooh theme at least 100 times as Sarah marched around the living room. I found an amazing piano teacher Madeline Karn, who also graduated from Oberlin for Sarah, and I watched Sarah’s progress from Piano Adventure books to sonatas. When Sarah was in eighth grade and Michael was in fifth grade, I started taking piano lessons from Dr. Suzanne Newcomb. Suzanne like my other great teachers focuses on your current ability while tackling your collective musical challenges.
During my children’s busy high school years, I again took some time off from the piano, but I have gone back to the instrument, taking lessons in my 40s, 50s and now in my 60s. I am currently taking lessons from Dr. Suzanne Newcomb, but also took lessons from Madeline Karn. Both have given me the courage to try anything I am willing to practice.
I’m close to finishing my legal career, and my parents are now no longer with me. My mom’s words stay with me. Yes, the piano has saved me. It has provided moments of order when I’m anxious, joy when I am sad, goals to achieve when I am bored, and peace when I’m troubled. I feel as connected to the piano as when I was six. And I have created a blog on piano playing through the mind of the amateur called FocusedHour88keys.
The piano stands alone for me as the greatest instrument. So take a moment and see if playing the piano or any instrument can save you.