Monday, 9 February 2015


Sometime in the next month or so, it will be twenty years since I had my first piano lesson. That's the point I think it's reasonable to call the point at which I first played the instrument (or indeed any instrument), rather than just sitting at it and poking keys to extract sounds.

There was a piano at home before I was born, so I grew up with it there as a piece of furniture. I don't remember ever not being allowed to play it, though obviously my efforts at a very young age were at best unsophisticated. The family collection of 'embarassing/endearing stories about Rik's childhood' includes several of my 'compositions'. Whatever my ambitions, I was no Mozart.

I asked for piano lessons from pretty young; my parents didn't cave until I was seven. Probably wise, since I was a pretty faddy, impetuous child, and it was to be at least a decade before I stopped resenting having to practice daily.

Thinking about it, I really don't have many memories that I can clearly point to as coming from before I started learning piano. That's not claiming any miraculous memory-enhancing powers for music, just that my recollection is pretty scattered from being younger than 7.

What I'm getting at is that I've been a pianist for a long time - that part of my self-image is very deeply ingrained. It might have petered out for me when I left home and my parents' piano, but I asked for a portable, digital piano for my 18th birthday to take to university with me. The entire family clubbed together, to the tune of £800, to make sure I had a decent model.

Even that piano will have been mine for a decade this summer. She's sat behind me right now, and I still play pretty much every day (I'm - very slowly - working my way through learning Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition', and after over a decade I've got about a third of it down). And playing has shaped my life in a lot of ways that might not be obvious.

It's not just that I love music, understand some part of how music is constructed and produced, enjoy creating music and find solace in the sounds. It's not just that some of my most important social relationships are and have been musical (pretty much the only way in which I 'get out of the house' these days is going to gigs).

It's also that the way I learn is shaped by a musical paradigm - regular, consistent practice, stepping up one cautious level at a time. I do not thrive when thrown in the deep end. I approach almost all tasks like performances, with meticulous preparation, often to a fault. It can drain my confidence and feed my anxieties, sometimes, since life often doesn't offer much preparation time, but it has its upsides too, when it works.

There's also the fact that twenty years of training my fingers to be clever and independent has real benefits (yeah, make your jokes - honestly, they give my sex life far more credit than it deserves). I never had to learn to touch-type; I just kinda picked it up as I went along. I never need to look at the keyboard anymore. Seven of the letter keys on this keyboard have had their markings rubbed completely off by time and I only struggle when I have to stop and think about where I'm putting my hands.

Manual dexterity shapes a lot of my attachment to video games as well. I get a real kick out of the way my hands climb around a controller in the flow of play. My favourite games tend to be those where the interface is slick enough that I feel like my fingers are extending into the game world, the game character's contortions a manifestation of my own prestidigitation.

I don't really have a message or an argument today. Just 'yay piano', I guess. That'll do.

No comments:

Post a Comment