It’s been 30-some years since I last played the piano. In the 1970s I resumed piano lessons, abandoned in 1953 when I entered college. In 1970, living alone (that’s a story for another time), the first piece of furniture I bought after a bed was a piano. I began to practice again. As soon as I could afford to, I found a teacher and practiced daily. But after a few years, my right arm began to ache, the muscles tightened, whenever I moved my fingers quickly—playing scales and runs up to speed. No one, not even the Sports Medicine doctors at Union Memorial Hospital, could figure out why. I could no longer play anything fast. I could no longer play the piano.
Now I think that may have been an early symptom of the myalgia that became full-blown when I collapsed with ME-CFS. Whatever.
Today I played the piano, to my utter and complete astonishment. Here’s how it happened.
Every Sunday I take a resident in a wheelchair to church. Today we went to church and there was no pianist. The minister said, “We’ll just have to sing a cappella, do the best we can.”
“Will you be okay if I go play the piano?” I asked the resident, as I put the hymn book in her lap and stood up.
I had no idea I was going to do that. As I walked toward the piano I was thinking, can I do this? Can I DO this?
Well, I did. They are used to singing slowly in the Care Center. I’ve always been a good sight-reader. Of course I missed notes and hit some wrong notes, but I did okay. Each time the minister announced the hymn number, I found the page for the resident first, then went to the piano to see what I was going to have to play.
Thanks to the good training I had at the Peabody Institute (the preparatory school for Peabody Conservatory), I know how to bring out the melody. Even if I missed some other notes, I was emphasizing the melody notes. I was amazed. It still feels surreal.
I brought a hymn book home with me so that I can practice.
Whether or not I will be able to play scales and runs, I don’t know; but I can play chords, and I can play expressively, with feeling, musically.
I guess I’ve got another job. (Ernie says my readers will think I’m writing fiction. NOT.)
By the way, the piece I played for my audition for a scholarship to Peabody was the only thing I could play from memory at age 7—a gospel song. Since I got the scholarship, I must have played it well. And here I am, all these decades later, playing gospel songs and hymns.
But what on earth made me stand up and head for the piano? I don’t know myself!