As a kid I was also a polymath. I wanted to do everything, but we had no money. My imagination soared because of lack of money, so I’m not complaining. I remember the other girls dressed their Barbies in fancy clothes, drove them around in the pink Barbie-mobile, and paraded them around Mattel Mansion. When they visited, it took some time to explain how my dirty clothes made the borders for the “bedroom,” and that my plastic and hollow Barbie-like creatures were not naked because I was a nine year old perv, but because the dog ate the original outfit. Luckily, I didn’t get too many visitors.
Although my imagination probably outdid the others, our lack of money held me back in some areas. I wanted to do gymnastics, but always had the classic Generation X parent response, “When you grow up and get a job, you can pay for your own gymnastics classes.” I did try this, I should add, but the gym said that their insurance company wouldn’t cover people my age. I also wanted to take piano lessons, so instead I taught myself to play on a tiny Casio. It didn’t have 88 keys, so when I outplayed the keys I’d just air-play the bits I missed.
When I grew up I found that insurance companies will allow adult students in piano lessons, a slightly less hazardous activity than gymnastics. Buying a keyboard and taking lessons was a divorce present to myself.
I attended my first recital at the age of 34. The room filled with people dressed in nice clothing, and some of the parents asked me which kid was mine. I’d shove a chocolate chip cookie into my mouth so I wouldn’t have to reply. Then, the first musician entered the stage…a four year old. She plucked Mary Had a Little Lamb quite gracefully. Next, a five year old played Chopin. Then, a bunch of other six and seven year olds happily banging the keys to some well-known Mozart or Beethoven tune.
Then, I went up and tried desperately not to notice the murmur of the audience. I started playing, but then my legs shook. They shook so hard I could barely keep them on the pedals. Then my hands started shaking too. Before I knew it my whole body was shaking and I couldn’t wait for the song to end. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. I skipped the repeat, bowed quickly and ran off stage trying not to laugh. Afterward, a few moms approached me and talked to me quite slowly and with small words. I realized that they thought I was differently abled, and I laughed some more as I left with a handful of cookies and apple juice.
I’ve done several recitals since then, and the parents have gotten to know me. Their five year old Chopin players come up to me afterward and say, “You sounded good. I didn’t even notice your mistakes.” I hadn’t told them I made any.
The best part about becoming a grown-up pianist is learning to laugh at myself. I’ve never been good at that, and I find it liberating. So, as I prepare for next week’s first solo recital, I’m posting a photo of me laughing at myself. Wish me luck. Cheers!