Thank you M.T.* for D.E.I.** and S. of W.***/****

I don't know how to play piano, so I just try to let my hands move the way they would if I knew what I was doing.  I know what that looks like.  I watched my big brother practice piano every day of my childhood.  Just to give you an idea, he played George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue at the Road Show, the annual talent show at Central, our downtown high school in Omaha Nebraska, 50/50 black kids to white.  My brother was the nerdy pimply genius Jewish kid.  They gave him a standing ovation.  I'd never been so shocked in my life.

And once I had a dream, a very vivid dream, years and years ago, that I was looking down at my hands playing Rhapsody in Blue.  I was astonished at how it felt, just like dancing.

When I was a kid, when my brother wasn't practicing, I played my parents' records.  My favorite for dancing was Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring.  I was the choreographer and lead dancer.  Though I was the only one who could dance every part perfectly, I was patient with my imaginary troop, always willing to demonstrate what I expected.  In college I studied modern dance. My favorite class, along with composition, was improvisation.  In spring, we danced on the sloping front lawn, in winter, we rolled and clucked and jittered our way around the hardwood floors of the big studio on the top floor, radiators hissing.  Once, we spent the entire class crawling up and down the staircases of Lathrop Hall.*****

At my son's first piano lesson, the teacher told him to play the black keys, any ones, how ever he liked.  Something in me bloomed.  That night, I played the black keys for three hours, on the piano that had sat a year untouched in our house since the day I salvaged it from an evangelical church. It felt like dancing.  Eventually, I got brave, and now I play the white keys too.  I play enough that family members often ask me to stop.  At some point, I began to wonder, am I the only person who plays the piano without knowing how?  Or are there armies of us, all over the planet, tripping to the beat of the same fool.

It was not quick in coming.  I started playing flute in the fifth grade.  From the first note on, I learned that playing music means reading it off a staff.  Not playing what is on the staff is called a mistake.  Making a piece more interesting means playing it louder or quieter, as noted by the composer on the page.  Only now do I understand the feeling of constriction I experienced, grown from those first seeds of anxiety that I would not play it correctly.  I thought this feeling was inherent to playing music.  And it was that feeling that matured and flourished through progressively more difficult music until I was playing Hindemith my senior year.  By then, I had not played flute in front of anyone but my teacher for four years.  Nothing was ever good enough to share.  Some days, when I practiced, it was thrilling.  But most days it felt more like drudgery.  I knew it was strange, the way my flute playing was such an intensely private thing.  But I had no idea how to make it anything else.

Now I'm 40.  Suddenly, I know people who like to play music the way I like to play music, "play" being the operative word.  They don't play like me, nor do I play like them.  Which is the fun of it, disparate voices coming together as one.  This past Monday, I went to my first open mic, alone, and had seven new friends by the end of the night.  Yesterday, I got a package in the mail, two C.D.s from my favorite piano/cello player****** who I had never heard play piano, beyond a few scales, until today, listening as I write, something I almost never do.

A new friend at the open mic commented on how free I seem to be with my music.  Only after lots of practice, I said.  He was surprised.  Really? he asked.

How else?

*Matt Turner

** DadA eAr InK

***Shards of Wiggett

****The other night A. told me that he thought I did a nice job with the post about my blog stats.  I was flabbergasted.  Really, he assured me.  He liked the graph and the reference to fem bots and he especially liked the footnotes.

*****Before it was remodeled.

******Besides my brother, Arthur.


  1. Even your writing seems freer as you tell this story. Love you Jojo. CR in AK

  2. Are you really forty? Serious play can begin then, though often only much later. Its much harder to play catch-up....
    Grandpa John