Home and Building, Volume 18 Number 1 (June 1955)
Is the piano your forte?
Last month we went into the matter of getting yourself a piano. We didn't ask the reason why. Maybe you've been thinking the children ought to have the opportunities you were denied or that it would be a handy thing to have round the house when piano-playing visitors call for the evening. Or maybe, better still, you have a yen to play the piano yourself—now the children are off your hands and you have a bit of time to yourself. Well, why not?
"But I'm too old" you'll be saying. Well, that's the end of it. If you're too old, you're too old. But you said it. You are only as old as you think you are. Piano playing asks little more of your mind or your muscles than most other things about the place. You can sew, knit, perhaps type, mow the lawn or pull a cork. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that these were prerequisite for playing the piano or even indications that you might succeed in this skill, at least it seems you have a pair of hands and ten fingers, which is a reasonable enough basic requirement.
"But" you say, "won't my muscles have stiffened up with years of non-piano playing?" Well, if you aspire to be a Myra Hess, a Colin Horsley a Shura Cherkassky or Julius Katchen, perhaps it would be less frustrating to stick to your knitting. Being a concert pianist is something like going to Eton. You have to put your name down for it early in life, and nine times out of ten you may ask yourself after you have been through it all: | "Was it worth while?".
If all you ask of the piano, however, is the pleasure of making music for yourself, of playing accompaniments—not too difficult—for your friends, or of even enjoying in private a little chamber music with the violinist (amateur) down the road, then, having two hands and ten fingers, there is only one additional basic need. You must want to do it, want to do it so much that you don't mind giving up the radio for thirty minutes or so each evening, being-prepared to leave the dishes over, or to cut one mowing of the lawn a month. And you must be prepared too, to stand up equably to the initial difficulties; or to stand up to them anyway. It will probably be your family who will need the equability.page 52
No, that's not quite true. There's one thing about the piano. No matter how you attack it, it won't rebel by making exasperatingly unpleasant noises. But that doesn't mean that the piano is necessarily easy enough to get on with. You'll have your troubles. For a start, however, go away and make a few sounds on the piano — chopsticks or "Annie Laurie" with one finger. When you come back, I'll tell you about some of the things that will crop up. Now! Still like it?
The big first hurdle for the adult beginner on the piano is not muscular but mental. As there are about a thousand children dragooned into learning the piano for every adult who comes to it with joy and his own (or her own) freewill, most beginner's music is written to meet the market. So it comes about that having read Shakespeare, Karl Marx, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, you may be faced at your first piano lesson with "Off to School" or "The Toddler's March". Having listened to every symphony from Haydn to Hindemith and been almost a life member of the chamber music society, you have to master music with your fingers that has as little interest as any other first reader.
Moreover, by this time of life you have probably given up study except in your own particular vocational line. It is not so much the muscles that may have seized up, but the mind. Certainly it will need a spring clean and some adjustment.
Considerable assistance in this direction, and comfort too, can be got by going to the right teacher. Not the teacher necessarily with a long list of examination successes to his name nor one whose reputation rests on turning out brilliant young artists. Tune in to the bush telegraph and find a teacher who is known to be sympathetic to the ideals and aspirations of the adult beginner.
If he is any good — as a teacher not, again, necessarily as a player — he will discover why you want to learn to play the piano and in what sort of spirit you approach the assignment. He will find you the right music too. Maybe, you are a serious thinker wishing to get right down to tin-tacks with some solid finger work. But not scales please. These are for the pianist who already knows a little about what makes the piano tick and music flow. Your teacher will point out that the first thing is to listen, to love beautiful piano sounds as sounds, then to feel them as music and, at the same time.discipline your fingers to become the servants of your ear and imagination.
Does this all sound very difficult? Does it sound too much like hard work? Believe me, it is. But this is always the payment for pleasure that is more than ephemeral. Piano playing is not a gift. But you can get it on the time payment of application and enthusiasm. After all, as I said, the main thing is that you want to do it. If that's the way you still feel about it, go to it. You'll get a lot of fun cut of it. And good luck to you.page 54