29 August 2015

Crazy Talented

Yeah, this pretty much nails it!
When I was growing up, one of the never to be unbroken laws of the land was music lessons, staring at age eight with the piano. This was required because A) two very musically gifted parents and B) Mormon. I mean how could I be a card-carrying member of the Church and NOT be able to pound out "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" on the piano shortly after turning eight? That's a thing, by the way, a real song.

So shortly after I turned eight, my mom loaded me into our (faux) wood-paneled Ford Country Squire station wagon and we drove into the wilds of east Phoenix to the home of one fearsome Mrs. Kramer. She was a legendary (terrifying) piano teacher who, given her demanding nature, seemed more apt to have been an angry prison matron than a children's piano teacher. Being her student was a study in "Damned if you do, damned if you don't." You were terrified not to practice because you didn't want to show you weren't improving and you were terrified to practice because you didn't want to show you weren't improving. This dance of the damned, for me, went on for four years. By the time I was twelve, my relationship with Mrs. Kramer and the piano came to a merciful end. It was clear that none of us were happy with how this was going, so we all walked away with a sense of relief.

Fast forward nearly five years. I'm seventeen and at the height of my teen-age awkwardness (I've had the testicular fortitude to post some pictures here in the Den from those hideous years so you know what I'm talking about) and I, in yet another moment of teen-age delusion, determined that if I took up the piano again, I'd get me a lady. By this time, our family had moved on from Mrs. Kramer and our go to piano teacher was a bearded, which apparently made him hip, professional guy in Scottsdale. So with the easy learning music book of Journey's Escape album in hand, ready to master 'Open Arms,' I made my way to his house and took up lessons again. Suffice to say, Escape was an appropriate choice, as I did exactly that a few months later. My formal relationship with the piano was over and in case you were wondering, it was the only relationship that it yielded me. Piano - one; ladies - zero. Shocking, I know.

Why the piano nostalgia? Last night, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I and a few friends made our way to Tanglewood to see the Piano Guys in concert. If you are not familiar with them, the down and dirty is that they are a couple of exceedingly white, Utah Mormon dads who play the piano and the cello and they have mashed up modern hits and classical music in a crazy, stupid (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) talented way. During one the 'cheesy witty banter' breaks, Jon Schmidt, the pianist, talked a bit about what drove him to the piano. It was eerily similar to my experience as a seventeen year old. He described himself as an "ugly" (his words) teenager and he'd heard the lie story that playing the piano would get him the girl. He then went on to play the song that he'd learned to impress a girl. It worked for him. For two weeks. He did better than me then, that's for sure. He got a girl for two weeks. Me? Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It was a great night for a concert. Tanglewood, which is the storied summer home of the Boston Symphony, is a beautiful venue and Our Lady of Perpetual She Hags, Mother Nature, could not have behaved better. The incredible talent that Schmidt and Nelson as well as their two other collaborators demonstrated was only heightened by the surroundings. They put on an excellent show. One of the highlights was when Nelson, the cellist, was soloing and demonstrating flawlessly just how amazing and emotive an instrument is the cello. As he played, he was joined by eight teenage violinists, whom he later described as some of the finest violinists in the country and he was right, and they absolutely nailed it. It was one of those moments that reminds you of just how powerful music is. It literally made my spirit soar.

It was great to wrap my arm around the mighty fine SML as we enjoyed the music. It was a lot different than one of the last big concerts we went to wherein she was nine months pregnant with our firstborn and I somehow thought dragging her into a mosh pit at B52's concert was an excellent idea but that is a story for another day. During the concert, in a moment that defined us as solidly middle-aged, she leaned over to me and said, jokingly, 'Do you have a lighter to hold up?' To which I said in all seriousness, 'Um, that's what my phone is for.'

Did I leave the concert last night determined that I'm going to go for round three and take up the piano again? Absolutely not. Did I come away with a renewed appreciation for the beauty and power of music? I did, indeed.

Oh, and I still can't play "Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree" on the piano.

I'll leave you with this from the Piano Guys:

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