As if to mock the non-artistic me, I picked out “musical inclinations” as today’s topic. I happen to like music quite a bit — thanks to the piano lessons and the Royal Conservatory of Music, I have a very good grasp on music theory — but it’s questionable if the artistic side translated at all. Story of my life: learn how it works, take the mystery out of it, and thus beat it to smithereens.
My first piano teacher was a nice ex-university student named Wendy. We ran her ragged to the point where she and her husband, Sonny, fled back to Hong Kong within a year or two of us starting up lessons. I remember not having much inclination to learn, well, anything at that point, while she drilled us in scales, keys (the major key uses the same notes as the minor key a diminished third away — so the scale of C-major, C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C is related to chromatic A-minor, A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A — see, something sticks), and Italian terms (forte, vivace, andante, cantabile, allegro, pianissimo; no wonder I’ve got an untold love for the Alfa 75). Actually, I think it was because Sonny got a job out there; years afterwards, I’d see Bruce Lee publicity shots, with his half-fade aviator sunglasses and think immediately of Sonny.
Our next piano teacher made learning easy, but seemed to rely on a very simplified method — she’d number the keys using masking tape and rather than marking notes, would teach us songs by numbers (“London Bridge” would devolve to 5-6-5-4-3-4-5, 2-3-4, 3-4-5). She didn’t last long.
I went to our last piano teacher for ten years. She was a retired professor, and one who’d actually taught Wendy — F. Gwendoline Harper. She was formidable; someone who, despite appearances, was tough as nails and made us better pianists for it. Yes, she would forget she had a pen in her hand when grabbing our arm to correct a egregiously bad habit, leaving marks on sleeves and flesh. Yes, she drove her Karmann Ghia like old people stereotypically do, on top of the dash and leaning forward by the second. She lived at home alone with her cats (close enough for us to bicycle to), until she broke her hip and moved into a home.
That was where I first learned to question directions (“Yes, the dinner — stick it in the oven to keep it warm” doesn’t mean put it, plastic tray and all, and turn the heat up to 400), where I learned to enjoy art for art’s sake (not just ’cause I was S’POSEDto), where the practice (or lack thereof) was mercilessly exposed week after week, where I actually learned some measure of self-discipline. It’s incredible, some of the things you learn when you’re not looking for them.