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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker

HOPING FOR A PIANO REVIVAL by Ellen Donker

Updated: Apr 29

My New Year’s resolution may start today


My husband never got the chance to take music lessons. Growing up, he desperately wanted to play the drums, but his father wouldn’t entertain the idea. When it was time to choose an instrument in elementary school, his parents wouldn’t pay for the rental. Either they didn’t have the money or it seemed excessive to them. The memory still stings.


That’s probably why Rob has always said he has no musical talent. But my daughter, Madeline, and I disagree. Rob can sing in tune. When he and I belt out an impromptu duet, I often slide into harmony while he keeps the melody going. He says he doesn’t really hear that I’m singing anything different than he is.


I was the lucky one who got piano and violin lessons. I made sure all three of our kids took up instruments in school and sang in the junior choir at church. I’ll never forget when they got recorders in third grade and played them together in the living room. Their selections were “Hot Cross Buns” and “Turn the Beat Around,” which only required them to know three notes. It was so cute and funny and ear splitting that I laughed and cried all at the same time. We had a similar concert a few years later when they moved on to the trombone, trumpet and flute. By then they had learned to keep time with their feet – loudly.


A few weeks ago, Madeline felt it was time to finally give Rob his due and started him on piano lessons. Although she doesn’t consider herself a great pianist (the flute is more her instrument), she is a fourth grade teacher and knows how to keep concepts simple and teachable.

She started with the book I used in third grade: John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course. It belonged to my sister before it was passed on to me. The book still contains her warnings, daring anyone but herself to touch the book. It also has notes from our piano teacher, Mrs. Skinn. The stars she gave us are still on each page: gold and silver held the highest rank while the blues and greens probably meant we played the pieces adequately. I’ll have to ask Madeline if she’ll reward her father with stickers. Those with the New York Rangers or Mets might incentivize him.

I’m happy to see the piano being used. It’s a beautiful baby grand that I bought more than 15 years ago in the hopes that I would revisit the waltzes and sonatas and minuets I had learned decades before. Thanks to muscle memory, I can still play some of them haltingly. But my best intentions never materialized. It saddens me to see this gorgeous instrument lay idle.

Madeline and I sometimes sit at the piano with our books, The Best of the Seventies and The Disney Collection or our church hymnal to which she sings soprano and I croak out the alto part. But my sight reading is awful. Each song is so full of starts and stops that after a while we lose our steam and revert to singing acapella. Oh, how I wish I could be the pianist who sits down and reels off pieces effortlessly.


Of course, it’s not too late. I could make another resolution for 2024 to practice in earnest and learn a few new pieces. Or I could wait for Rob to advance sufficiently so we can play some simple duets. All I want is to do good by my piano while Rob gets some satisfaction from making music. This just may be the year.

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