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May
09

One Taught Me Piano, The Other Made Me A Musician

In doing my usual scrolling through Twitter this morning, I noticed a small tidbit wedged between the thousands of Mother’s Day messages: Today is also Billy Joel’s birthday. He’s 72.

In my world, I will confess, the two events together have personal significance.

I grew up in a house where you were going to learn to play a musical instrument whether you wanted to or not. We lived in a modest house, but it had two pianos, a large dual keyboard organ better than most you’d see at the neighborhood church, and a bunch of guitars, violins and other stringed instruments.

They were not there for decoration, either.

My mother was a self-taught music teacher, so at the age of 5, I was ordered to get up at 6 AM, practice for two hours, then get dressed and walk down the block to school. Another hour of this occurred right before dinner, and punishment was immediate if you chose (or tried to choose) not to practice. It was not a coincidence these practice sessions occurred right before a meal.

This went on until I was 13. To be honest, I hated it. My mother wasn’t very good at piano (she could teach but she could not play very well herself) and as we all go through that stage of our lives when we challenge authority, being forced into a piano-playing gulag for several hours a day seemed to be extremely worthy of being challenged. I tried a few times, but ended up meeting a large wooden spoon my mother kept around for cooking and discipline. I relented.

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