Question of the Month: Instrument

by Susan Henderson on August 3, 2009

What instrument did you play as a child? Tell me a story about you and that instrument that shows me something of the kind of kid you were.

Wednesday, Naseem Rakha will be here to discuss her debut novel, THE CRYING TREE, and she’ll answer this question, as well. See you then!

By the way, all week I’m at Squaw Valley – amazing!!, and I’ll have lots more to say about it soon – so I may be around only at the oddest hours. But carry on, and I’ll jump in whenever I’m free.

And P.S. Happy birthday (Friday) to Dan Conaway, best agent ever! If you love him, too, send him a note so he has a great day.

{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

djtuffpuppy August 3, 2009 at 6:01 am

My mother forced me to take two years of piano. I didn’t want to take it so I protest for the entirety of those two years. To this day the only thing I remember how to play is the Mission: Impossible theme.


robinslick August 3, 2009 at 8:18 am

I could write a book about this and I did.

But loving music the way I do, it has been a source of decades of frustration that I still have not found my instrument. My jazz musician father wanted me to study clarinet; then put my music stand next to his and used to rap me over the knuckles in anger when I produced screeches instead of dulcet tones. “Benny Goodman has nothing to worry about,” he’d snarl. I would dread those nightly practice sessions to the point where it’s amazing I didn’t jump out his bedroom window or become a nerd mathematician who loathes music.

So when I was 11, I talked my mother into buying me a guitar, but of course I wanted an electric guitar, not a cheap acoustic from Sears Roebuck which is what I got. They hooked me up with lessons with a ninety year old lunatic who tried to teach me the one hip song he knew, The Girl from Ipanema. I saved my babysitting money and bought a book of Beatle songs which I was forbidden to practice when my father was home because he blamed the Beatles on his failed jazz career, so I learned to play so quietly I never had a chance to develop rhythm which is why I suck at guitar. I can still play Ticket to Ride and I Want To Tell You, but my proudest moment came when I taught myself Arlo Guthrie’s (who I just learned, to my dismay, is a Republican – thank you, Ellen Meister, for destroying that fantasy ha ha) Coming Into Los Angeles, where I would scream out all the pot references in defiance, because even though my father hated rock, he loved pot.

Anyway, I still shudder when I hear both the clarinet and The Girl from Ipanema, despite their obvious beauty.


Ric August 3, 2009 at 8:59 am

My older brother taught me piano at age 4 – I took lessons but could never get past my Mother being able to play ragtime by ear – she couldn’t read a note, but could rock the house.
In Eighth Grade, in order to get out of shop class – mandatory and useless to a farm kid, I signed up for band. Mr. Meakin needed a tenor sax player so that’s what I got. I didn’t practice enough – I was only 3′ 11″ and the tenor sax case was huge to be schlepping on the school bus.
But Mr. Meakin and I got to be good friends over the next five years. His wife was certifiably insane (and somehow she got a teaching job in our high school). He and I would drive the instrument van behind the school bus going to various competitions, chain smoking Newports as I listened to his long suffering life tales.
When I clashed with his wife senior year, he quietly gave me A’s to balance out the E’s she was giving me, but neither of us could figure out how to deal with her.
Once, during Christmas break, my Uncle Jack saw my sax and asked if he could try it. He picked it up and such music I have never heard, before or since. It seems during the ’30’s, he played in big bands all over Michigan, at summer resorts and other venues. Even though I tried, I could never in a million years, get to his level – and he hadn’t touched a saxophone is twenty years.
I guess the point is, practice is not one of my strong suits. I didn’t do it, even though the results would have been worth it. I never had to study, so I never developed that discipline, which has probably hurt me in the long run.


Kimberly August 3, 2009 at 12:40 pm

I played the flute for many, many years – and I got so “good” that I had to start taking private lessons. After one exceedingly difficult lesson (maybe around age 14?) when I was learning to “double tongue”, I announced to my mother that I was quitting because my mouth hurt too much. No matter how much she tried to reason with me, I was done. Basta. Cosi. I never picked it up again.


jessicaK August 3, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Love this question!

I sang.

I took piano for 3 years (from age 8 to 10), but singing won out. I sang harmonies with my sister—folk tunes and Broadway songs from West Side Story and South Pacific. My mother accompanied us on the piano in the living room. She could play anything and had perfect pitch but a lousy singing voice. I sang at night in my bed when I couldn’t sleep. I sang in the school plays. I was an understudy for Josephine (in Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore). In Junior High—more choral singing, same with college where I performed a choral premiere with the BU chorus at Symphony Hall. I also joined a gospel choir. I was the only white person in the group—a strange, invigorating but uncomfortable experience in the early 1970s. And on summer evenings hanging out on my screened porch in the city, I sang to the night. It didn’t occur to me that entire blocks of apartment dwellers nearby might not want to listen to that girl—whoever she was–blasting out Laura Nyro songs, crooning as loud as she could. Thankfully, no one called the police.


Anonymous August 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I played piano for years and years, and then later added oboe, alto sax and flute (for concert band and marching band). In high school, I also played keyboards for the jazz band and accompanied the choir (I sang soprano when the choir was a capella). I loved the piano, though I have mixed emotions about the piece FUR ELISE. I played it when I auditioned to study under a grad student at the nearby university because I thought I’d perfected it. To my horror, she saw room for LOTS of improvement. She had me practice it DAILY for the next year and a half, and then she had me play it for her “thesis concert.” She wanted nuances from me that I simply couldn’t hear, even though I’d won awards and was considered an expressive musician. I think she spoke to aliens in another life.


jessicaK August 3, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Funny, Ric. I also signed up for band to get out of class–in my case, I signed up for bass drum to escape my deadly 6th grade social studies class.


Jimnichols August 3, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Grew up in a family with a Dad who played piano and trumpet, sometimes simultaneously. He was good enough to play for the Navy Band during WWII, but passed up that chance to stick with the fighter pilot program. (This came full circle a few years ago when, during a squadron reunion tour of the White House, he was asked to play the famous Eagle-leg piano in the East Room for the rest of the guests.) I took piano as a matter of course and at eleven played Fur Elise (me too, Gay!) at the state house during some kind of an event that brought a bunch of us there from around the state. But I quit piano to take up trombone so I could go on the band trips. Never learned much theory during my piano lessons and today can barely slowly follow a music sheet. I can play the guitar a little, though.


Nathalie August 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm

As most children (at least in France), I was taught to victimized a wooden flute in primary school. I do not know who hated it more, of the geography teacher whose bad luck it was to try and teach music to the students or myself for turning such inept sounds from the poor hapless instrument. Or maybe the flute, who might have dreamt of something grander. I sometimes wonder if it did not mourn its past as a tree; at least the wind would have made a nice sound going through its branches…

In my family, we love music (I was raised on a strict diet of opera – mostly Wagnerian) (and baroque music).
Which is why we do not play it.
(You have to be perfect or abstain. I abstain.)


naseem August 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm

At first I danced. Ballet, tap, modern. Anything that had a melody or rhythm. Ravel’s Bolero was a favorite. So was Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. Then one day my mom offered to pay for piano lessons. I think she saw that though I had the heart for dancing, I lacked the flexibility and coordination. At any rate, I left my ballet lessons with the Russian teacher who would beat out the steps with a cane, and took up the piano.

My first teacher, Mrs. Openheimer, lived in a second floor apartment in Hyde Park, near my elementary school at the University of Chicago. When I walked into her home the first thing I saw were two concert grands, their back ends bracketing each other like spoons. They occupied most of the space, and I never learned how she got the instruments into her apartment, nor how they would ever get out. My suspicion was that the pianos, like Mrs. Openheimer, would always be there, safely tucked inside the dim room.

My mother had told me Mrs. Openheimer was Jewish, and in my mind I decided that she was a refugee from a concentration camp. Her accent was strongly European, and her house so exceedingly spare — no art, no pictures — only piles of books and the pianos. And there was her posture, so strongly erect and uncompromising, like it had been fused into that form. There was also the fact that she always wore long sleeves, no matter how hot the room; a sure sign, in my mind, that she was hiding a tattoo. But what convinced me the most that my teacher had been imprisoned in a camp, was that one day, out of the blue, the woman with the perpendicular posture began to cry as I played Chopin’s prelude in E minor. It is an infinitely sad piece, with a slow melody in the right hand and block cords in the left. It was played at Chopin’s funeral, and it did not occur to me that that may have been the reason for Mrs. Openheimer’s tears. Nor did I think it was because I was butchering the piece.

Instead, I believed the music made her remember things that not even music had the power to ease.


naseem August 3, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Arlo, a repubilcan? Really? What would his father say?


billybones August 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Accommodations in the secrets-closet are very spare, so there’s not much room for musical instruments. But that doesn’t have to stop a determined skeleton kid. A borrowed fibula and a ribcage can make a delightful xylophone.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Oh, I love that. Is your book out?


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I hope that Russian teacher with the can appears in your writing some day, even briefly. That’s wonderful.

But this rich story of the piano teacher shows the way your mind unpacks itself like a rose blooming.


billybones August 3, 2009 at 4:15 pm

It is! Thank you for asking.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I didn’t know kids in France learned on a wooden flute. I always wonder how teachers live through those beginning classes? I’ll tell my story on Friday, but in the end, I abstained, too.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm

If you post a picture of you playing a trombone over on Facebook, I’ll link it for everyone here.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Had no idea you have such a history with music. The Fur Elise story is awful. Seems like it would make a kid lose interest in music.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I’ve never heard of that before – perfect pitch and lousy voice. It’s like Stephen Hawking with his brilliant mind and losing his ability to communicate. The writer in me loves these kinds of things.

What a wonderful story of you singing.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

I’d love to know what that teacher actually did during that listen. Amazing, the people in our life that open up or close off our possibilities.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:30 pm

I took shop class, where I made various pot pipes to sell (learning curve: don’t shellac!) and a cutting board shaped like a pig that my dad still uses.

I’d love to read a story of yours with a student and a teacher driving around in the instrument band, but make him as crazy as his wife.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:34 pm

That’s too funny, The Girl from Ipanema on a Sears guitar. Let me link your book:

And like Naseem, I’m shocked to learn that about Arlo.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I wonder why music and sports are the things that are forced on kids.


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Yay! Let’s link you:

But why is The Road to Nevermore only available on Kindle?


djtuffpuppy August 3, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Why can’t kids be forced to write instead? “No desert until you finish that short story you were working on.”

I think I’ve found the parenting method I am going to adopt.


billybones August 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

They do make it confusing, don’t they. Try this. It links to the hard cover edition:

And thanks again!


SusanHenderson August 3, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I think forcing, in general, doesn’t lead to passion or talent.


Jimnichols August 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm

Alas, no horn.


kategray August 3, 2009 at 5:47 pm

The first instrument I got lessons in was the flute, but I’d get light-headed during the sessions. It was the same reason I had trouble on the swim team; too-small lung capacity, and asthma conspired to make me feel like a failure. So, of course, I stubbornly decided to take up the saxophone. We had our own, which had come into the family during the Depression, when it was given to my great-grandfather in lieu of cash (he ran an allsorts mechanical repair shop). It was silver, engraved, and it certainly stood out amongst all the other saxes in the band room…but I still couldn’t play it. The usual outcome was that I’d start blacking out in the middle of playing. I’ve never really stuck with an instrument since then, but I often think about taking up drums or guitar just for fun, at least to play along with my kids.
When I think about what kind of kid I was, I suppose the instruments and all the activities I dropped out of somewhat highlight that a) my parents probably should have had some kind of rule in place about how long to see through a desired activity before it was acceptable to demur from further lessons, etc., and b) I had no idea what I really liked or wanted out of life. I never actually figured out much of it until I was in high school and later. What I hope to do with my own kids is to let them do the things they’d like to do, push them when needed, back off when needed…it’s a bit like gardening, really. You provide the seed, fertilize it here and there, water, tend, and then, when the plant is established, you back off and see which way it grows.


Ric August 3, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I actually forgot another musical bit. I played electric organ in a band – local kids. We would play wedding receptions for $50 and all we could drink – which is a really cool deal when you’re 16. The $10 was good money and the booze…well.
I generally just chorded along, but could really kick out “96 Tears” with it’s organ solo. We would dream of a recording contract, but never got any further than dealing with the dreamers and schemers. Playing high school dances, and receptions made one very cool.


Kayin August 3, 2009 at 7:54 pm

I tried piano, and remained to this day, untrained-able. When I was 10, 11, I was given the opportunity to learn piano by my neighbor who had a piano at home and gave me a free lesson, but because in my young mind I was already concerned about my parents’ finance, I feigned dis-interest and turned down the opportunity. I took up piano for two semesters in college but due to lack of practice time I fell off of that as well. Music is becoming more important to me as I get older. I play and make music in my head all the time and sing when I can (the shower is still the place for the best acoustic, period!)


kreeves August 3, 2009 at 8:27 pm

The drums. I thought I would play the trumpet, but didn’t have the stamina. I started in 5th grade and played through high school. In marching band it was the tenor and bass. In concert I played the timpani. I stopped after high school, but then picked up the spoons in order to play something with my friends who played bluegrass in college.


CamilleLaPlume August 3, 2009 at 11:17 pm

My grandmother always said, “You have piano fingers.” I’d sit by her side on the piano bench and sing along while she played old parlour favorites, the ones she used to play when she was a girl in the late 1800s: The Little Brown Church in the Vale, Long, Long Ago, In the Gloaming, Darling Clementine. Grandfather would rock and smoke his pipe and pretend to ignore us, but I could tell how much he enjoyed listening to my grandmother play.

One day she decided to teach me and I surprised my parents that night by sitting down at our piano and playing a sweet rendition of Sweet and Low. I believe they were thinking “prodigy.” Really, all I had done was memorize the musical notes on the page and how they corresponded to the keys on the piano.

So off I went the following week to piano lessons, two one dollar bills clutched in my hand. The school orchestra leader taught lessons after school in a little room in the upstairs of his house. You had to walk past a tumbling down cemetary to get to the side door that led to the tiny garret. I remember one time at Christmas I was invited into the downstairs and his wife served me fudge before lessons.

Over the years, I had difficulty letting go of the restrictive style in which I’d learned to play. Stubbornly, I’d memorize the music and avoid learning theory, learning how it all fit together. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to play and played day and night with deep emotion.

After a few years, after I had started my transformation from a girl into a young woman, the piano teacher started “tickling” me whenever I had to scoot past him to get out of the room. Like most young girls in this predicment, I simply gave up on the lessons.

I learned from this experience: Don’t try to take a shortcut if you seek something of value, don’t give up, and don’t let someone else steal your dreams.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 9:43 am

I love the idea of walking past a graveyard to get to your lessons….There is something in that.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 9:51 am

Percussion has become more and more important to me as I get older. A few years ago I started lessons on the tabla (the well known Indian drums you have heard Zakier Husain and Allah Rakha – no relation – play.) After a year — I gave up. I rarely give up. When I decide to do something, I usually do it until I get it right. Not the tablas. I learned that to do the tabla right, I must immerse myself in it — fully. I had to learn to position my body in ways it had never been in before, to move my fingers in ways they had never moved. I had to learn to strike something without really striking it, to touch without really touching. And I had to learn an entirely new rhythm that came neither naturally nor easily.

Next life, I thought.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 9:59 am

I took piano for many years, and after all that time I would say I became a fair musician. Just fair. But still, within that “fairness” there were moments of grace. Probably a listener would never be able to tell,but every once in a while my conscious mind would drop off and my fingers would take over, breaking the piece free from the confines of its notes, and moving into a realm that is part dream, part sky, part earth, wholly magic.

That, for me, is the essence of music. It’s ability to twine its way beyond conscious thought and into a subliminal world that strikes at the very chord of who we are. It doesn’t matter if we are in a concert hall listening, a band playing, or a shower singing. Music has the ability to take us where thought can not.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:02 am

Your physical stamina may have lagged, but your spirit certainly didn’t.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:06 am

My nine year checked out your book with me. He wants to go to Powells and buy it.


billybones August 4, 2009 at 10:10 am

That makes me more than a little bit happy. Thank you so much!


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:11 am

In first grade they started us on the recorder. It was made of wood, and smelled of — well — wood. I remember my mom taking me to a store to buy it, and I remember practicing, but my most long standing memory was being so frustrated with the squeaky sounds my instrument made (as opposed to the sweet, bird like calls made by my teacher,) that I dragged my bottom front teeth along the mouth piece, making a permanent scar in the wood. The teeth were relatively new, and still had those ridges children’s teeth have. Today, when I look at the recorder, I am so happy I had become so frustrated.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:12 am

I hope you were at the White House when he played.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:17 am

I remember learning Fur Elise. I think I must have drove my parents nuts playing it over, and over, and over again…..


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:26 am

I have a problem. My nine year old son “lives for music.” He listens to it all the time, and is always singing. It doesn’t matter what the music is — opera, folk, blue grass, rap — he just loves it. The other day, I had to do an interview at a youth detention center, and I had to leave Elijah in the waiting room with the guards. When I came back, he was standing beside the two men singing The Sound of Silence. The problem is, that like other things in Elijah’s life (playing catch, soccer, running, climbing, etc…) he has no talent for it. In fact, he is tone deaf. No one tells him this, but I know one day soon some clueless kid will break the news to him, and then he will come home, and my little bird will have stopped singing.

I wonder, can a voice class help this? Elijah’s heart is strong and true. He is in love with life. Still, I know how dreams can be stomped on. And I am his mom — and you know mom’s. Defenders of the dreams…..


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:28 am

That is just the kind of dichotomy that makes stories fly….


naseem August 4, 2009 at 10:30 am

I love the image of a 3’11” kid “shlepping” an instrument around that is bigger than him.


Nathalie August 4, 2009 at 10:33 am

The idea to force all children in a class to learn a single given instrument is completely absurd. Children (people) have to chose their instrument (find their voice) and in some case let the instrument chose them – like any animal that needs taming and cajoling to make a good companion.


Nathalie August 4, 2009 at 10:37 am

I think my flute was a recorder too and it did have teeth marks from all the frustration…
(another reason for it to moan its past as a tree, I suppose).


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 10:55 am

I’m so fascinated by this. Wow. And your persistence. I’m at Squaw Valley right now, and with the altitude, I find I’m winded doing the slightest things – walking up a hill, running. It’s a frustrated feeling when your lungs won’t take you where you expect to go.

Love your philosophy of raising kids.


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 10:58 am

What’s most surprising about this is what an adult sense of responsibility you had at such a young age.

Funny how free people feel in the shower. It’s where they sing and cry and think. Wonder what would happen if we all acted more like the people we are in the shower…


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 10:59 am

The timpani and the spoons… awesome!


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 11:02 am

What a lot of memories you brought back with the names of those old weird songs I remember learning on the organ. It was like Hansel and Gretel set to music, creepy and wonderful and alive.

I think you have a story here with that fistful of bills and the cemetery and the garret. Hope you write it!


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 11:03 am

Yeah, or at least it’s not taught in a way that makes people love music, that’s for sure.


jessicaK August 4, 2009 at 11:04 am

Naseem! Your son sounds amazing. What spirit! As for tone deaf. I’m no expert on this, so you should ask a voice teacher, but I don’t think there’s a “cure” for tone deafness. I do think lessons can teach a greater awareness of how something sounds. I had a friend who was tone deaf. She took piano lessons to help her with this. I think it helped her a little. She certainly loved music. My husband is the same way. He loves music but is somewhat tone deaf. It doesn’t stop him from recording his favorite songs, listening to music, enjoying concerts, etc. and singing in the shower. Does your son have a dream of becoming a singer? There are ways to be part of music and singing without being the singer persay–. Wish I had a better answer for you. I just love your son’s exuberance and your compassion.


jessicaK August 4, 2009 at 11:08 am

I guess I should clarify–lousy voice meaning my mom could carry a tune but her singing “instrument”–those body components such as throat, vocal chords, bone structure–didn’t equal her ability to put her hands and ears and sense of rhythm together to create beautiful piano music.


kategray August 4, 2009 at 11:20 am

Persistence is all I’ve had at moments! Even though I have to run with an inhaler in my hand, I still do it. And most of my accomplishments have come when it was said to me that someone didn’t believe I could succeed.
I find my philosophies on childrearing are evolving every day. Two weeks ago, we had our scariest moment ever with our older son, who is autistic. We have a house that requires me to go outside and down into the back yard in order to get into the basement and laundry, you see, and by the time I made it back up to check on said son, he was no longer in his room. I had to search our duplex (which we pretty much solely occupy, aside from occasional guests), all three storeys of it, our back yard, behind the brush, near the creek, and then our neighbors’ yard before it hit me that he was really, truly gone. We have a gate on our deck level, and only one door out, but he did it. It was the first time he’d ever left the house and yard, and I was completely in shock for a minute before I decided to dial 911. He’d been spotted by then, about a quarter mile away, by a bus driver, and the state troopers in town brought him back home. In short, everything we
thought we’d had “under control” with our son, and in knowing who he is, was all upended. It has reminded me that we need to think on our feet, nor can we take anything for granted, even though he is still a sweet, loveable, and flexible kid, he’s getting older, more curious, and smarter….
 “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding



Nathalie August 4, 2009 at 11:36 am

It would be interesting to see if someone here has been brought up on Montessori schooling. A friend of mine was and he says that a lot of his early schooling (from kinder garden) was related to music and music brought into different materials (and he is an excellent cello player as well as a scientist).


Jimnichols August 4, 2009 at 11:50 am

I was exactly the same kind of piano player. When I switched to the trombone I didn’t even learn the notes/positions, but would play by watching the other trombonists.


Jimnichols August 4, 2009 at 11:53 am

I would have loved it, but wasn’t along on the trip. He said it was the best piano he’d ever touched, played like a dream.


CamilleLaPlume August 4, 2009 at 11:59 am

What is it with people like us?


Jimnichols August 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Good question! Thinking back, I could get by without buckling down, so I did.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 2:40 pm

That’s too funny.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm

There is a terrific story there.


naseem August 4, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Last night I heard Ken Burns speak here at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Something he said about music really struck me. He said that rather than creating his film first, and then having a musician come in and layer a score on top, he and his team pick the music first, and then write the story to suit the music. This is precisely how I wrote The Crying Tree — words, images and story all stemming from music.

My full essay about the incredible evening with Ken Burns is on my Red Room Blog site:


Jimnichols August 4, 2009 at 4:45 pm

Yep…the pitfall being sentimentality…


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Oh, Kate, that’s terrifying, and I’m so glad you found him safe! xo


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 6:33 pm

So lovely about the moments of grace. And very excited about everyone seeing your interview tomorrow because it really shows something of your soul.


SusanHenderson August 4, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Next time I’m around a printer, I’m going to make a copy of your essay – absolutely inspiring. Hope everyone else checks it out…


Kimberly August 4, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I love how you immediately blame the teacher and not my fickle and ever-changing nature! 🙂

Truth is, the minute my inner light switch flips to “off,” I’m done. There’s no telling me otherwise.


Kayin August 4, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Having worked in an environment with a lot of children around, I strongly urge parents to not let those strains pass onto their children. Nothing’s more discouraging than to see a child’s curiosity, talent and/or interest get snipped because of the sense of guilt a child may feel.


Anonymous August 5, 2009 at 12:37 am

When I was about 5-years old, my dad bought a black lacquer baby grand piano from the officer’s mess on the Air Force base where we were stationed in Japan, and I thought it made the most beautiful music I had ever heard. I took lessons, but before I could play with any skill, I would lay underneath the wide, curved body of the piano and listen to my father play all kinds of classical music on his state-of-the-art reel-to-reel stereo system. That music became the most grounding part of an otherwise ungrounded life as a military brat, and I was inspired to play much of it over the course of more than 15 years of lessons. In my early twenties, married too young with babies of my own, I had nothing much of value except for a beat-up second-hand upright grand. I taught piano lessons to other people’s children to help keep food on the table while I went to school and worked a couple minimum wage jobs. In the final throes of my last year of school, I had to sell my piano to pay the last piece of tuition. It broke my heart and something else in that first, ill-fated marriage to be so defeated. Today, the music learned and played and appreciated still grounds me in my darkest moments. Just this weekend, my husband of 12 years gifted me for our wedding anniversary with an iPod and a speaker dock for my office so that I can have my music with me at work. Truly a gift of love and listening. For the first gift, however, I thank my father who extended his love of music to his children and for that first, black lacquer piano with the beer-can rings marking its shiny top.


billiehinton August 5, 2009 at 7:56 am

The piano. Which I initially wanted to play and loved playing, but at some point later on my dad put the condition on it – I could only continue taking riding lessons if I continued the piano lessons. After that I began to hate the piano lessons and I wasn’t happy with the new piano teacher my parents switched me to. She would sit and eat ice cream while I played the music she selected for me – I no longer had a choice in the matter – and critique the playing. I don’t know why the fact that she ate ice cream while she did it annoyed me so much!

She eventually told my father that the lessons were a waste of money b/c I wasn’t committed to the instrument. I had studied for 9 years by that time, and was playing fairly sophisticated pieces. But still missed my first piano teacher, a woman who had played professionally in Europe and was very sweet and elegant, and who let me pick my own music – including Quentin’s Theme from Dark Shadows… 🙂

Interestingly enough, as a young adult I bought an old piano and tried to resume playing, but had forgotten the entire left hand. I never really tried that hard to regain it, but played around with it, sometimes remembering pieces I’d learned as a child. I still wish I could play Pachelbel’s Canon the way George Winston plays it, but other than that, I enjoy listening.


Carolyn_Burns_Bass August 5, 2009 at 10:41 am

My mother was an accomplished pianist and soprano who lived inside a room of fear and self-loathing. Sad, but true. I wanted to play piano and sing like her, but we couldn’t afford piano lessons and my mother did not have the confidence or patience to teach me. I taught myself to read the melody line of her pop music books and could plunk out tunes with my right hand. My favorites were her Joan Baez songbooks. I could do a pretty good imitation of “Silver Dagger” and “House of the Rising Sun.”


SusanHenderson August 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

Heartbreaking, but what a rich image you painted.


SusanHenderson August 5, 2009 at 11:38 am

Your teacher ate ice cream while you played?! I’m amazed by all of these stories, and the strange way music lessons seems to pull us away from our natural love of music.


SusanHenderson August 5, 2009 at 11:40 am

Oh, I just love the story of you laying beneath the piano and the beer can rings!


naseem August 6, 2009 at 9:31 am

I find it interesting how the left and right hand can do such different things on instuments. One playing soft — the other louder, one a rhythm the other a melody, one holding down cords, the other strumming. It always seems to hard to do the rub the belly, pat the head thing, without the two hands getting totally screwed up. Yet, with instruments — the hands seem to easily do different things without much confusion.


naseem August 6, 2009 at 9:35 am

I hope you get a piano back in your life….


billiehinton August 6, 2009 at 9:49 am

I still marvel that after all those years I could not read the music for the left hand (nor can I remember the proper terminology for such!). It’s almost like I blocked the deeper notes and retained only the melody. I made a brief attempt in young adulthood to learn guitar, but whoa! It was hard with my small hands and felt so awkward.

All that said, my love of music has remained very strong. I was reminded last weekend of how much music is tied into my creativity and writing when I heard the first line of an unknown song in the soundtrack to a TV show and became obsessed, instantly, by a germ of the next novel. I spent about a half-hour searching for the song, downloading it from iTunes, and then listened to it over and over. It’s not the words calling to me, it’s the music, and it’s telling a story, or putting the possibility of a story in bold relief so that I can start to sort it out. It’s been in the edges of my consciousness ever since, and I’m almost positive this will be the next fiction project I work on. (there are two projects between now and then, but I always have something simmering, and this is it)

Much of my writing is tied to music in this way. And all my writing (fiction, that is) has paintings that come to mind while I’m writing, of the characters and/or themes they’re facing in the stories. It occurred to me once that I’d gift myself upon the sale of each novel with a commissioned painting from my description – if only I could do it myself, though – it would be almost like going the full creative circle. Musical notes to novel to painting.


SusanHenderson August 6, 2009 at 8:16 pm

I do this soundtrack idea with my manuscripts, too. Not only that, but each book is written in a different font. Just different ways to drop into the time and place and mood of each story.


michaelmcintyre August 12, 2009 at 12:12 am

I played cornet in the grade school band, simply because my family happened to have one. I remember one time me and the trumpet player decided we were going to blast really loud inside the class one day. Everybody was tuning up and getting ready for our first number, so we draw our breath in real deep and get set to be as loud as we possibly can for one second. And of course, he faked it and left me hanging out in the wind. The teacher was really mad and all the other kids looked at me like I was useless, and that’s pretty bad when a bunch of band kids look down on you. I was mortified, but looking back now, I feel like I was glorious for that brief moment. I hope some ears are still ringing.

Then I moved on to guitar and bass…


SusanHenderson August 12, 2009 at 9:33 am

Ha! I love that story, Michael – a forced solo! I had to look up “cornet” to see just what it looked like…


naseem August 13, 2009 at 5:34 pm

I love the insight: “I feel like i was glorious.”

It sounds so true…..


5speener0 August 27, 2009 at 1:49 pm


Yup, it was the accordion. My father loved to play it as a young man. It used to be rather the “in” thing to play back in HIS day. He tried to encourage me to play, but it was not to be. Too nerdy! Too big and heavy to hold AND play! Too difficult to do different stuff with both hands AND squeeze in and out! It never happened, thank God! It’s a little sad, though, ’cause it would have made a great party trick. Think about it–you’re ready for your guests to leave? Pull out the ole accordion and start playing. He-hee…sneaky.


michaelmcintyre August 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Susan and Naseem,

Thank you so much for your compliments for my story. That made my day!


SusanHenderson August 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm
SusanHenderson August 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm



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