88 keys to happiness

**Warning! If you're feeling grumpy or cynical you'll probably want to skip this mushy, sentimental post!**

My mom is a piano teacher. She taught the neighborhood kids for thirty years. I had just one piano lesson—from her—when I was a child. One lesson, and then I shook my head and said, “No thanks, Mom!” I don’t remember why I said that, but I’m so glad I did. I learned to play the piano anyway, after my own fashion. I can play lots of those sonatinas by Kuhlau and Clementi, and most of the pieces in Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook. And because I never studied “formally,” I don’t stress out about proper fingerings and keeping ’em nicely curved, and so forth. All I do is enjoy it to my heart’s content.

My mom and I play duets together. This is one of the great joys of my life. If you’ve never played music in an ensemble, well, you have my deepest pity. There is nothing like it. Nothing like being a part of something greater than yourself, at one with the group, creating beauty. I played the clarinet for many years—including lots of lessons, this time—in quite a variety of bands, orchestras, and chamber music groups. There is nothing like it. I miss it. Playing duets fills a void in my soul.

Playing duets with my mom does something else for me, too. Whatever ups and downs she and I have had, and I admit there have been maybe one or two, they are out the door when we're playing together. And we have that mother-child ESP thing going, too. Our ensemble is uncannily, effortlessly perfect. Sometimes, as we finish the last chord of the piece together, perfectly together, we look at each other in amazement. True, I do have all that other ensemble-playing experience. True, my mom accompanies lots of soloists and has played in chamber groups, too. However, we prefer to believe it’s the mother-child bond that let’s us play together perfectly.

My son just had his second lesson with Grandma. I am so glad.


  • Oh, I'm so glad I read that. I love your family and I can't wait for the day I read about all three of you playing together.

    I think I'll break out my flute and play this weekend.

    posted by Blogger SuzanH on 4:39 PM  

  • That's great. I used to play duets with my sister and enjoyed that a lot. But my favorite group music experience was singing in a choir. Something about all those voices in unison, combining to make beautiful harmonies . . .

    posted by Blogger purple_kangaroo on 5:43 PM  

  • I am so jealous! I feel I am Your Road Not Taken. My mom gave me piano lessons for 7 years before we had the sense to get me a diferent teacher. I used to love to play, but never had the special experience your describe of duet-ing with one's closest kin. Mom did give some beginner lessons to my kids, and I'm about to do so with Mermaid Girl on my next visit.

    You've inspired me to play the piano a bit today...something I don't do enough. Thank you!

    posted by Blogger Savtadotty on 3:20 AM  

  • Very nice story. My mom taught me how to play the piano; after awhile I needed to get another teacher because my mom only knew the basics.

    But, forty years later, I always play a tune for her when I can. It brings us both back to a much simpler time in our lives.

    posted by Blogger Fred on 9:15 AM  

  • lol....I'm never grumpy or cynical...but musical instruments hate me.

    posted by Blogger midwest_hick on 11:01 AM  

  • That is really beautiful. I want to do stuff like that with my kids too. Last week at church, a mother/daughter flute duet was going on, and it had me in tears. You are lucky to do that with your mom. My mom and I sing in the car together :)

    posted by Blogger Running2Ks on 11:49 AM  

  • Oh, so jealous that you could learn to play without formal lessons. I had lessons and tried so hard, but I just have no. talent.

    I still have my two-part invention book, though. Maybe someday my kids will be able to use it. They already have more ability than me!

    posted by Blogger Phantom Scribbler on 12:51 PM  

  • Wow! I inspired two people to go back to their instruments! I am so pleased!

    Purple, I envy you. I'd give almost anything to be able to sing well. One of the things I love so much about the clarinet, compared to other instruments I've tried, is that it really feels like an extension of your own body, your own windpipe, when you play. To be able to make music with nothing but your own body, well, that must be pure heaven.

    Phantom: reality check! Anna Magdalena and Clementi sonatinas are nowhere NEAR the same league as the inventions! My sister played these pieces when she was, like, 8. :)

    posted by Blogger Julie on 9:00 AM  

  • Wonderful post. My grandmother, for whom I was named also taught piano, but I couldn't learn from her because she died long before I was born. :(

    I can imagine your son and your mon so happy playing duets together. I'm kveling at the thougt! :)

    posted by Anonymous SilverMoon on 10:07 PM  

  • Touching post, Julie. I admire piano players and happy relationships. :)

    posted by Blogger mrsd on 11:07 PM