Amazing Kids! Magazine

My Adventure with the Piano

By Grace Tang, Contributing Writer

 

Ever since I can remember, my parents have always adopted quite a strict and “Get Things Done” parenting style. In my household, the elder generation was to be respected unconditionally – no matter the circumstances. For the most part, my parents made decisions for me; they determined the extra-curriculars I would be involved in, the school marks I would be getting, and the things I would like and not like. It was not until recent years, finally, that my parents have started to trust me with making my own decisions. On so many different surfaces, I am thankful they raised me in such a way. I pushed myself to limits that I never believed I would reach, I tried different activities that I would have otherwise never touched, and most mportantly, I found new interests here and there.

One of those things that my parents determined I would perfect from a young age is music, more specifically, piano performance. For nearly 10 years, I have had this love – hate relationship with an instrument I dearly enjoy, but absolutely dread at the same time. And although I can truthfully say that I genuinely appreciate and love playing the piano today, this certainly was not the case for many many years.

Here is my adventure with the piano, my self-esteem in performance, my parents, and finding equilibrium.

I was around 7 years old that year. My parents and I were living in a small beaten-down apartment building in the aging town of Scarborough, Ontario. My father had one wish – to give his daughter (me) opportunities he didn’t have growing up. I vaguely remember it was mid-winter that day, though not very cold, the ground was soggy with melting snow. My parent and I walked 30 minutes to the closest music school around our geographic location. My father told the music administrator that he wanted me to play the flute. But after careful consideration, the administrator told my father that, perhaps at the tender age of 7, my lungs were not well equipped enough to play the flute with proficiency. And so, my journey with piano began.

That first day, we rented a keyboard from the music school. My dad carried the keyboard on his shoulders as we walked for 30 minutes to reach back home. I was extremely excited as I placed my hands on the keyboard. The first pieces I learned were obviously the most rudimental. It was simply my right hand banging out some melody with no rhythmic consideration. But even that brought smiles to my parents’ faces. For the next few months, my parents would walk me to the music school every week, and listen in as I learned with a class of 8 people. The teacher would lead, and 8 students would replicate on their keyboards simultaneously.

After I graduated the introductory level from that music school, my parents brought me to a new private teacher. It was under the guidance of this teacher that I began my proper piano career. The teacher was a recent university graduate of a Chinese music institute. With skills and experience under his belt, he taught his students with the same expectations that he had for himself. Needless to say, I would never reach those expectations. I remember there was a lot of yelling and screaming on both sides. I would start to cry every time I had to practice the piano. I told my parents I never wanted to touch the keyboard again in my life.
It was during this time when I started to learn to incorporate my left hand in the musical pieces. Naturally though, I was left-handed and so my left hand, which is supposed to be the accompaniment, would play with a much louder tone than my right hand. Thinking back, it should have been a stepping stone in my practicing and my parent should have been proud on so many levels. But the truth is, my teacher was disappointed and so were my parents.

Another 6 months passed and my parents bought a house in the beautiful suburbs of Mississauga. I started to learn under a new teacher from around the neighbourhood. She was very much the opposite from my first teacher. On the surface, she was very nice, always a smile on her face. But though nice, I found the lessons very boring. Every week, my second teacher would pick up wrong notes, rhythmic errors, fingering issues, and repeat. I found no joy in this instrument but my parents pushed me on. I would dread every living second I had to touch the keyboard. And eventually, I won the war against my parents. Although with disappointment in their eyes, they allowed me to stop the lessons and I stopped playing the piano at all.

When I did stop playing, I realized I wasn’t happy. With so much freedom on my hands, I had no idea what to do with the extra time. And so a few months later, I begged my parents to restart my lessons. Without a mutter or a double stare, my parents agreed and took me to my third teacher. I found this teacher the most compatible with my learning style, and my mother, who took me to the weekly lessons, found an instant friendship with the teacher. From time to time, I still found the learning process deeply tedious but for the majority of the time I started to like the piano. I still had all the wrong notes, rhythmic errors, and fingering issues that I had before, but my teacher would allow that to slip by time to time in order to foster a spark of interest in me. I stayed under her guidance for 6 years. Through the ups and downs, I passed many practical exams, some with great marks, with the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM).

As my playing advanced, my teacher’s personal skills and experiences could not keep up. And based on this issue, she transferred me to my last and final teacher. My fourth teacher had one of the most talented pair of hands I have ever heard. Because she was strict in her teaching style, I learned the most important rules of piano performance and learned some of the best musical pieces of this universe. She took me to event after event, giving me the opportunity to perform in front of real people. It was hard for me, especially at first, because I got extremely anxious and my fingers started shaking and my mind would go blank. Surely, I could stand in front of a class and whip up a speech or jump into the water at a swim meet and give the best race of my capacity (used to, not anymore ha ha), but not with performing on piano. When I stood in front of a silent room with pairs of eyes staring at the piano and me, my fingers would shake extremely. They shook to the point where I couldn’t even place my fingers on the keyboard. But worst of all, I would forget every single note I memorized.

Through many, many performance opportunities, I can now perform with much less anxiety. My self-esteem while performing has grown like an exponential curve (ew math). While I never reached my parents’ initial expectations in performance, I realize we have reached a new equilibrium throughout the years. They understand my struggles and how hard I try, and I understand the patience they had with me. Together, as a family, we have learned more about each others’ personalities and tolerances. Now, whether good or bad, they truly applaud my every move. It’s funny how what started as simply practicing an instrument emerged into something much more meaningful and worthwhile.

And although I cannot say I am in the final stretches of my piano education, because I believe learning is always continuous, I can say I have come a long way.

I’m sure there are so many other amazing kids who have had the same experience as my experience when it comes to learning an instrument during childhood. Share yours!