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My wife and my children are all very talented. They all play the piano, and most play multiple other instruments. My musical talent is limited to playing the radio. For those who know my brothers and sister and my parents, my lack of musical talent may come as a surprise. All my siblings are quite talented, especially on the piano. Many of them play for church and community events. My mother taught piano to hundreds of people over the years. So how could one of her sons end up so lacking in this area?
As a boy growing up, there were cows to milk morning and night, plus lots of other chores to do. There was also only one piano, and I had six brothers and three sisters. Along with our practice, my mother taught piano lessons almost every evening after school and on Saturdays, too. That meant the piano had little chance to rest before the next person was playing. My parents worked out a tight schedule for my brothers, sisters, and me to practice piano.
The boys in the family were expected to start learning the piano by the time we were five, the same time we started doing farm chores. Because there were so many chores to do after school, and Mom was teaching her students piano, my brothers and I had to trade off mornings doing chores with mornings of piano practice.
Of all the people that my mother tried to teach, I was surely the one who tried her patience the most. When it was my morning to practice piano, my mother would get me started then leave to do her own work. But the minute she walked out of the room, my attention would turn to anything but the little dots and lines on the page. It wouldn’t be long before I would hear her call, “I can’t hear any piano playing!”
I would jump back up on the bench and play for a minute or two, only to be drawn quickly away by something more interesting. My parents tried bribes, threats, and just about anything they could to get me to practice, but it seemed so boring to me. By the time I was eleven I was able to play the simplest of hymns, but my mother seemed to doubt whether she could keep my attention at it long enough to push me much further. After playing the same piece for recital two years in a row, with no new skill and the only difference being a little liberal flair on my part, my mother decided something had to be done.
One night I overheard my parents talking about what they could do to get me motivated to really practice. My mother told my father that she just didn’t know what more she could do.
My father chuckled a little. “You just leave it to me. You know how I have motivated all of the other boys.”
“Are you sure it will work with him?” my mother asked, the doubt prominent in her voice.
My father laughed. “It has worked on every one of them. I’ll just wait for the right day.” I wondered what day that would be.
But one morning I woke up and the windows were covered with frost. The bedroom I slept in on the north of the house was so cold my breath came out in steam as I climbed out of bed. It was my morning to practice, so after breakfast I reluctantly, but dutifully, sat down at the piano. That was when my father came to me.
“Son, your mother says you don’t concentrate on your piano practice. Well, it’s forty degrees below zero outside. You can either sit in here in a warm house and diligently practice piano like your mother wants, or you can forget all about practicing the piano and get outside and do chores.”
I couldn’t believe he was giving me a choice. He never had before. I felt so happy. “Thanks, Dad,” I said.
I got up off that bench, put on my work clothes, and went outside. And I never looked back at piano practice again. It wasn’t until years later, when I thought about that experience and the shocked look on my father’s face, that I realized that was not the outcome he had expected.
But that is why all my siblings play the piano so well and I don’t.