Sunday, 17 October 2010

Ivory tears

My friends may be surprised to know that I started playing the piano at the age of four. Surprised because I don't play very much now, and don't talk about it very much either. My first piano was a black, upright Petrof. My parents had very little money back then but they saved all they could to buy me a proper piano (were there digital keyboards back in 1989? I don't know...). My eyes lit up at the beautiful shiny ivory and black keys, and with legs not quite long enough to reach the sustain pedal, I began taking weekly lessons. I didn't know very much about pianos back then, only that my Petrof piano was painfully heavy for a child's fingers compared to my tutor's Yamaha. Years later, I learnt that Petrofs are Czech, and that it was founded by a man who studied piano making in Vienna in the 1800s.

My piano lessons over the many years were, in short, the bane of my life. What started out as something fun soon became a chore. I begged my parents to let me quit but they felt that I was at an age where I didn't know what was best for me. And so began the ivory tears, the few hours before my piano lessons with a very strict classical piano teacher were moments of panic and dismay. I begrudgingly and soullessly trundled my way through hours of Bach, Cramer and Hadyn. Oh, and 10 minutes of Hanon exercises daily.

Fast forward 10 years, I left my home country Malaysia to study in Singapore. By then, I could sight read classical pieces in the three most popular clefs (treble, bass, who-uses-it-anymore-C-clef), tell you the intervals of most musical instruments and identify when a note was a quarter-tone flat/sharp. My music training was militant and I was glad to be rid of it. I never believed I had real talent - what I achieved was just a result of hours of practising and memorising a piece. My piano was too big to travel with me and so it was goodbye piano.

One day, I was in a hotel and the pianist was playing the most beautiful jazz improv, something which I could never dream of doing. As I mentioned before, I don't think I'm a talented musician - just a girl who kept playing set pieces over and over again until she got it right. This man was playing from the soul, his fingers speaking so naturally that I was instantly envious - it was something I've never unlocked. I'm not a "creative" spirit, and whilst I could have a song in my head, I don't know how to create it naturally with my hands on the keys. I am no improv jazz pianist. Instead of your usual Autumn Leaves or Night & Day, Mr Hotel Pianist was playing Cramer's Les suivantes No.2 in his own interpretation. It was beautiful.

I have a love-hate relationship with the piano. After years of scoldings and disappointment (my ABRSM piano exams were my worst fears, next was the loss of my parents and the dentist), my confidence wilts when I'm asked to play. My pulse quickens with nerves even before I set my hands on ivory. I played regularly for worship in Sunday meetings in Malaysia at one point but stopped when I was told off by a lady at church for being fidgety. The only time I can play is when nobody is listening but God and I.

One day, I was in the music room in my halls of residence with D, my now fiance. He knew I played the piano once upon a time and asked casually if I would play something. Immediately, the feeling of panic struck and I adamantly refused and changed the subject. I'd shelved piano playing in my past. For Christmas that year, he bought me a little Yamaha 66-key keyboard. This is a photo of the said keyboard:

I'm pleased to say that I started learning to play the piano again today, and will be practising on my Christmas present. This time it's because I want to do it. My piano playing past has been peppered with doubt, criticism and self-consciousness: all things which are lies and not of God. Instead, I choose to be God-conscious and and apply my hands to an instrument to create songs of worship. I choose to think and live in a way which glorifies Him, not myself. I lift my eyes beyond my little world and my little past and see Him. The best way of getting over yourself is to know that it's all about Jesus.

No comments: