Me and my piano
I WAS Grade 6 when father bought our piano. Though old looking and secondhand, it nevertheless gave us joy as children. It was about the only ‘antique’ thing in the house, and though the case had dried up with scratches, yet its curved legs were elegant and sometimes you notice the leaf carvings on the sides. I was very happy seeing it ‘arrive’ at our home. Years before, I remember trying hard to open the lid of another piano in a family friend’s house but could not do so because it was locked. I was scolded.
When my grandmother’s church bought a pedal powered organ (this was before electricity reached the village) the instrument was temporarily placed in our house until carpenters finished making its plywood casing complete with lock. I would spend hours banging, rolling and frolicking my fingers on the keys, sometimes put the side of my head on the naphthalene smelling keys like they’re pillows and then kick the pedals to grandmother’s dismay. The organ was promptly transferred to the church.
Our first teacher was Ma’am Rosie, the piano owner’s daughter. Story has it that her father, a Boy Scout master, died on a ship that sank between our village and a nearby island. I remember she wrote a letter to my parents offering to sell her piano. Father must have asked us what our thoughts were, since I recalled reading Ma’am Rosie’s letter and can still picture her slanting handwriting strokes and color of the pad she used.
On hindsight, how difficult it must be for Ma’am Rosie to give up the only piano she had, her true friend and companion, a real possession bought especially for her by her father. Whatever her needs were that time, she must have also hoped my parents would be able to take care the way she took care of her piano. Maybe she also prayed the new owner’s children would find delight in it the way she, in her time, filled her own house with abundant laughter, music, love, and life entertaining her parents with skillfully executed servings of melodious and ‘sonorous’ (her term) Visayan piano songs.
In the beginning she would to come to our house on weekends and taught me and my sister waltzes and duets. At times it was difficult absorbing everything she said. So she would play her favorite pieces, and demonstrate the simple, to complex executions of Visayan folk tunes on the piano saying, all these keys are really ‘one and the same.’ That was the point of my difficulty. Since the keys looked alike how would the fingers know which key to land on? Yet we plodded on.
A few weeks passed and Ma’am Rosie stopped coming to our house. Maybe the rigors of travel from her town to our village with really bad un-cemented roads proved too much on her. To continue our lessons mother enrolled us in a formal piano school in the city. I can still hear on my mind the thunder deep metallic sound of the tall upright with yellowed keys where my sister and I took turns striving to hit the correct keys, as our legs dangled from the seats hardly reaching the pedals. Our new teacher was a competent woman, piano wise, who loved wearing matching up and down ‘terno,’ bags and umbrella. She can attack and scale with ease the difficult notes of Malagueña, Glow Worm and, Charles Williams’ ‘Jealous Lover’ -the theme from the movie The Apartment. Jealous lover, to her, represents one woman’s quixotic love for a priest - hers.
My sister never went farther beyond the first piece ‘Off I go to Musicland’ (‘training ear and eye and hand’). Probably she found formal training tedious and not to her ‘free spirit’ temperament. She abandoned the lessons altogether. But she has evolved in other areas of music such as karaoke singing, shaping and ‘perfecting’ her voice craft along the style of Sharon Cuneta a favorite singer of Tagalog compositions. Whenever she comes for a visit our sibling ritual is to do pop numbers with piano accompaniment. Reveling on the piano had been my and my sister’s bonding.
Rabindranath Tagore once said that the faith waiting in the heart of a seed promises a miracle of life which it cannot prove at once. I am thankful of the unflinching trust of our first music teacher, giving up her piano for us. It was faith that says hey, these bumbling musical ignoramuses whose only input is raw interest can still evolve (a saving grace worth looking into) not necessarily as big-time musicians but, at least, can be counted on among those who continue to keep faith in music’s mysterious power to bring souls to higher levels of life and love.