Piano – my unforgotten dream

piano_examThis text is the basis for a speech I gave in the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. I titled the speech Unforgotten Dreams.

Is there something you have always wanted to do in your life – maybe something you did in your  childhood and gave up – but this dream has never left you?  That something for me has been to play the piano.

When I was  about seven years old I used to pretend play the piano by “playing” the coffee table. My mother thought I was a future concert pianist and started me on  piano lessons. I loved the feeling of pressing the keys on the piano and hearing the beautiful sounds – especially when I could play a recognizable tune.

I kept going with the lessons but unfortunately for me as an immature primary school age student – piano is hard work – technique is needed and I got bored  with lessons because every piece I was learning had a name like Etude or Study by composers I had never heard of.

I persuaded my mother to stop the lessons, probably in exchange for a promise to work harder on school work. I did pass Grade 2 when I was in year 6 but that was the last of my formal piano tuition.

Fortunately the dream of being able to play the piano never left me. The piano remained in the spare bedroom and when I was I high school, a friend taught me to play the opening to the Beatles song  Lady Madonna.

Fast forward to when I was in my late 20’s – married with  some leisure time and a little bit of spare cash.  I bought a portable electric piano (Yamaha YPR-8). I had the motivation but not the discipline to keep going. I dabbled in playing a few easy classical pieces. I had occasional bursts of enthusiasm and piano playing, but the motivation dried up and the piano was  put in a cupboard.

Fast forward to the next generation when our first daughter Emily was 7 years old. My wife and I decided to start Emily on piano lessons. I dusted off the electric piano for her to use – and we decided to buy a real piano if Emily was enjoying the lessons after 6 months.

Imagine my joy when we visited a piano showroom in Crows Nest, inspecting a range of second-hand pianos. The salesman could tell that I was buying the piano for me as much as for our daughter.  I could restart my goal.

Because Emily was having lessons and practiced nearly everyday , she improved. She took exams and could play very well. Much better than what I could do!    Because our younger daughter was also learning piano there wasn’t much time for  me to play as the piano was always in use – practice, practice, practice.

After Emily finished her Grade 8 exam – the piano wasn’t used and available for me to use with many music books available. I thought I could teach myself from her books. This worked up to a point but I would hit a roadblock of learning technique.

A colleague at work told me he was taking piano lessons and even more amazing was that he was taking exams. He was older than me and his sons were at university. He had all the time in the world – this got me thinking. Maybe I will take lessons as well.  I rang my daughter’s teacher but she was booked out – probably just as well.  I found a teacher in Gordon, arranged a trial lesson, discussed my goals then set a date for a weekly lesson of 30 minutes.

At the first lesson – there was  mother with 2 children who were having a lesson before me . The boy who I found it was 9 years old and only this big (gesture) looked up at me and said “Are you learning piano?” I don’t think he believed I was a student – I am at least 10 years older than his father. I explained how I had given up when I was little – and regretted doing so. I said “Don’t you give up playing or you will be sorry later on!”

After 18 months of lessons I was making progress but I wanted to have a goal to work towards. It’s all very well saying “I want to learn piano” or “I want to play golf”. I decided to set myself the goal of sitting for an exam . Last year I told my teacher I wanted to sit for an exam to prove to myself I could do it, and to challenge myself to a high standard of playing. She suggested sitting for a lower grade to get used to the exam environment – it had been a while since my previous exam!

I chose to follow the ABRSM (Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music) syllabus in preference to the Australian Music Examinations Board. This was the recommendation of a friend who switched over to ABRSM. as well as another friend who learnt piano in Hong Kong. I browsed the piano books in the Zephyr Music shop to review the repertoire and I liked the mix of composers and works.

I prepared scales and 3 pieces which  I practiced every day, for many months. I started to hate the pieces as I was playing them so often – now I remember why I gave up!  But I reminded myself of the goal –  playing excellence. I put in a lot of time and effort to be as prepared as possible for the exam in June.

Now if you think standing in front of a group, giving a speech, is nerve-racking – try going into a room with a piano you have never played with an examiner,  a man you have never met, in the middle of the winter. This was nervous exhaustion!  I was shaking and really nervous. In fact the first piece I started to play, I realized I was playing an octave too high. So I stopped –  the examiner said “OK, warm-up is over now –  please begin!”.   That was lucky!  I managed to play the pieces, scales and  do some aural tests.

At the end of the exam I was a nervous wreck – I had taken the day off work. I told my daughters about the exam experience and they said “Now you know what we had to go through!”.

After the exam I started thinking of all the things I had done wrong and expected I would be lucky to pass. Several weeks passed then the report arrived in the mail. I had just managed to get a distinction. I cheered as I had realized I had fulfilled a goal that means something to me.

Piano certificates

On the left is  my second grade exam certificate – 1969 – yes I am now an “older” student’.  A few months after my exam, I was pleased to receive the certificate on the right.  Grade 3 Piano – Distinction –  the average age for this grade is probably 9 years old.  These two certificates were issued 44 years apart!

I am pleased to say that I achieved the goal I set out to do – to pass Grade 3 exam – it’s not a major goal by musical standards. I am not trying to become a concert pianist. This certificate proves to me that I could achieve my  musical goal.

So what is your unforgotten dream? Why don’t you make it into a reality?

Go for it!  It doesn’t matter how big or small as long as achieving the goal  is highly satisfying and meaningful for your.

Postscript

After the exam, I continued learning pieces from the Grade 4 ABRSM Piano Syllabus. I learnt to play four pieces from that book but not to an exam standard.

My piano goal for 2014 is to play three  pieces from the Grade 5 ABRSM (2013- 2014) book and to record a performance on video as well as playing to a small audience. I want to play the pieces well enough so that I am confident to make a recording.  I have found that performing for a video camera is quite nerve-wracking so I think this is a good goal for this year.

Planned repertoire:

  • Ludwig van Beethoven – Minuet in D: No. 7 from 12 Minuets WoO 7
  • Francisco Tarrega – Adelita
  • Heitor Villa-Lobos – Samba-lele No. 4 from Guia pratico, Album 2

Extra pieces

  • Tan Dun Staccato Beans No. 2 from Eight Memories in Watercolor (ABRSM Grade 5 2009-2010)
  • Joe Hisaishi – Village in May
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Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

4 thoughts on “Piano – my unforgotten dream”

  1. Charles, great speech. We definitely have come down a similar path pianistically speaking, except that I never went back, although I thought about it several times. I just left a gap of 45 years between 1965 and 2010. I took grade 3 in 1965 and when I started again in 2010, all I could remember was how to read music but I couldn’t play at all.
    Can you believe we are studying some of the same pieces: I am also doing for Grde 5 the minuet in D and Adelita. I have done To a Wild Rose and recorded it. For the modern I am doing a piece from this year’s syllabus by Bela Bartók and was thinking of doing the Kabalevsky piece from the book you and I both use.

  2. I also began because I “played on the coffee table” 🙂 I was going to ballet lessons when I was small, what I most liked about it was the lady that played the piano and then pretending to play on the table at home. So luckily my mum detected it. Giving a speech in front of a room full of people doesn’t bother me, but playing the piano in front of lots of people sure gets my adrenaline running and makes me shaky!

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