Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Piano Story

My first storytelling feature was August 20, 2002. Surrounded by friends and family, I introduced the set of stories I was about to tell by telling "the piano story". My parents were in the audience that day. They flew to Boston from Texas because I let them know how much it would mean to me if they did.

Now, whenever I think of this story, I remember the experience of having told it to them. Because of this, it's become one of my favorites.

A number of years ago, I decided to learn to play the piano. As one who works extensively with computers, I went about this in a way that made the most sense -- I bought a computer program.

With some regularity, I would perch my laptop atop the piano, run the software, and walk through exercise after exercise. On this day, the lesson was "Joy to the World". I was terrible -- I couldn't play to tempo and I was missing quite a few of the notes. Then my mom called. She asked what I was doing and when I told her, she was very enthusiastic.

My mother loves music. Loves loves loves it. It also makes her sentimental. Since her brothers were very musically inclined, music reminds her of her family growing up.

When she asked me if I could play for her, I had to be honest. "I can't. But I will." I put into practice what I had just been learning and again, it was horrible. I was slow, I was off, the tune was hardly recognizable. But I could hear that my mother was listening with her mother's ear. "Oh, that's so beautiful" she told me. I knew her well enough to know she wasn't lying.

Shortly after this episode, I learned that my parents had started referring to me as Liberace. My father would ask my mother "How is Liberace doing?" and my mother would respond with something like "Liberace is busy today." I took this as permission to launch a little joke campaign of my own.

I decided to have my friend Rich who can play the piano (really, really well) sit at the keyboard. I called my mom and said "Hey, I've been practicing." You must realize, only two weeks had passed by this point. I asked my mom if she'd like to hear what I've been up to. I told Rich to hit it, he started to play -- it was a rich, beautiful, complex piece and he was performing it perfectly.

I was expecting my mother to guffaw. But no, she was just listening. She called out "Honey, honey come to the phone!" Suddenly my dad was on the line too, and they were both listening!

A joke just isn't funny until someone gets the joke. I had to interrupt. "Mom, Dad. That's not me! Of course that's not me!"

They paused for a second before admitting, "well, I guess that would make more sense."

When I hung up the phone, I realized something about myself. I grew up with this unfaltering faith in what I'm capable of. On one hand, it's an incredibly strengthening source. But on the other, I have no idea how many times I've disappointed my parents. (I can still hardly play Joy to the World.)


This is a link to a poor quality recording of that first, 2002 rendition. Critics, please note this was my first feature and the first time telling in front of friends and family. In case you're wondering what the hiccup sounding noises are, that's my mother sobbing!

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