Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Inspire

Like many of my generation, piano lessons played a formative role in my childhood years. It all started when I was eight, and it went something like this:

Mom & Dad:"Would you like to take piano lessons?
Mini-Me:"No, I want to learn to play the guitar!"
Mom & Dad:"No, it's piano or nothing."
Mini-Me:"Okay, I guess nothing then."
Mom & Dad:"No, you're taking piano lessons."
Mini-Me:"Thanks for including me in this decision."

Okay, I'll admit to a little facetious historical revisionism. However, what is true is that during the short season that we lived in Chattanooga Tennessee, all three of us kids started taking piano lessons.

In the years that followed, as my family continued our nomadic tradition of moving a lot, I had an assortment of teachers:
  • the genteel, Deep-South lady with a Tennessee accent thicker than gumbo, who fussed over my finger positioning until I got it right
  • the college student with the crush on folk singer James Taylor, who had me playing Fire and Rain till my eyeballs bled, as well as most of Elton John's greatest hits (of the 1970's)
  • the tight-lipped, perennially disapproving middle-aged woman who trained me to keep my wrists in the locked and upright position -- or she'd whack the back of my hands with a yardstick.
I actually did reasonably well at piano, although in all honesty, practicing seemed like drudgery and I didn't actually look forward to my lessons -- especially with the Grumpy Wrist-Whacker.

But when I was 13, my parents found a new teacher: an elderly guy from Winnipeg who'd been teaching piano since before World War II (not kidding). He was even older than my grandparents, and his basement room in Sarnia Ontario was absolutely jam-packed with an upright grand piano (which the students played) right next to a baby grand (his -- don't touch). The four walls were lined, floor-to-ceiling, with sheet music and books, broken only by a tiny basement window and the door.

He gave me my first lesson, and sent me home with a bundle of sheet music to begin practicing. A week later, at my second lesson, I pulled a stunt that I'd gotten quite good at: I just sight-read the pieces, because I was good at sight-reading, and had been able to fool my other teachers that I'd been practicing, when I hadn't.

I'll never forget the look on his face. He wasn't fooled for a second. He sat down on his piano stool, took off his thick glasses, and looked sadly at me with an expression of total bewilderment.

"You don't love to play?" he asked, disbelieving. "Do you get no joy out of the gift you have? You are very good at sight-reading. But you didn't practice, did you?"

Busted, I could only silently shake my head.

"You have been given a gift," he repeated, replacing his glasses and turning to his own piano. And then his gnarled fingers absolutely raced up and down the keys, and I sat in dumbstruck awe at the sight of this elderly man, incredibly talented on his instrument, playing with such obvious passion and joy, that it could only be described as inspiring.

Finishing, he turned to me again. "I now have one goal: I will teach you to love playing."

And he did. By inspiration. There was nothing more exhilarating than when he would sit at his piano, as I played through my pieces, and join me in a double-piano extravaganza. Whenever he'd start playing along, I knew I'd nailed the piece I'd been working on. He instilled a passion for playing, and modeled a simple, child-like joy at the privilege of playing his musical instrument.

In an era of dumb-downed, feel-good pep talks masquerading as 'sermons'; in a milieu where Bible illiteracy has reached epidemic proportions; where biblical discernment is at an all-time low, we need teachers, preachers, pastors, and lay-people who love the Bible (Psalm 119).

To educate, explain, and disciple, yes. But even more, to inspire.


  1. I think all us musicians who are still at it have a similar story. I remember the teacher who inspired me... thanks for sharing, it stirred some memories.

  2. And that is the difference between musicians and wannabees - we take lessons, we learn the notes, but never reach the point where the instrument is just an extension of your hands, when you don't practice anymore, you just make music.

  3. Stu,

    I could also mention my college music professor -- Dr. Bill Doerksen. He was an inspiration and an incredible example/model of graciousness and encouragement.


    LOL -- If only!! I still practice an hour a day, four-five days per week. I haven't played piano for many years, but my bass gets almost daily attention. :)


    Thank you. Coming from a Master Blogger like yourself, that's quite a compliment. :p