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Thursday, 09 July 2009

The Lost Chord

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

My sister started piano lessons with Mrs. Heideman when she was seven. I was so envious, but my parents felt that I was too young and needed to wait four years till I was seven to begin.

When the day finally came, I was so excited as I marched onto the piano teacher’s front porch of her nice white house in our small village, and spotted “the piano” through the windows on the left.

Entering the door straight ahead, you made a left turn into the living room that was dominated by the grand piano. (It may well have been a baby grand – I doubt if I had ever seen either at that point in my life. Our piano was an old upright that had been my mother’s since she was a girl.)

There might as well have been no other furniture in the room for all I cared – only the piano mattered. Were I to make a movie of that first lesson, there would be a huge bright spotlight on the piano, with sparkly, pulsating lights and a trumpet fanfare.

I loved playing the piano. I loved the lessons. Nobody ever had to remind me to practice. I even loved Mrs. Heideman. She was a strange, prim, old-fashioned lady with her hair pulled back into a bun. Her speech was precise and stiff, but she was kind. Her stuck-up daughter, Eunice, was slightly older than my sister, and we hated her.

My love affair with the piano lasted through two more teachers, as we moved to different towns, and finally to Millikin University, where I, as my sister before me, majored in voice and minored in piano.

There had been a year in my teens when I decided I didn’t want to take lessons any more, and my parents wisely went along with my decision, probably sensing (rightly) that I would start up again when I began to miss it.

The piano was my friend and comforter in my awkward adolescent years. It filled hours that could have been lonely, when we moved to the country and my access to neighborhood playmates was more limited. It got me positive attention and friends.

One of my close friends to this very day moved to our town when we were both eighth-graders. She took away my title of best pianist in the elementary school, but my jealousy was short-lived when I began to realize the benefits of her presence: we played challenging, four-hand, piano duets and she became my accompanist while I developed as a vocal soloist. We went to the same university conservatory, so she remained my accompanist till I left to get married.

My first job after I married was as a dance school accompanist. I taught a few pupils, including my eldest daughter, on and off over a span of sixty years, and I played hymns at church, starting when I was the Sunday School pianist at age eleven, and finally packing it in as I approached my seventies.

In spite of the ravages on my hands from rheumatoid arthritis, I continued to play, in a simpler style. I even used piano playing as an effective physical therapy after several hand surgeries. Some of my last jobs included playing “Oldies but Goodies” for senior audiences, although, by the end, I was faking, with mostly just chords, and paying a heavy price with pain and swelling afterwards.

Joy, my erstwhile rival and lifelong friend, has had an illustrious career as a college piano teacher and accompanist. She encourages me to play again when I wistfully tell her how much I miss it. She hasn’t seen my hands for over ten years and I don’t have the heart to tell her I can’t even make a chord.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Lyn - What a beautifully told story. What a sad ending!

I was always so jealous when Miss Carver came to our house to teach piano to my two older sisters. I was a boy, so piano lessons were out of the question. I was supposed to concentrate on baseball, tennis, etc. Furthermore, I sung off key, so music was considered out of bounds. Over the past 71 years, I have been relegated to the 'toilet paper and comb' and the phonograph!

I've recently taken up everything else, including golf, yoga, creative writing, and learning Italian. So maybe I should take up piano! - Sandy

Sandy, It's never too late. I once had a retired gentleman as a pupil. He was determined to play Fur Elise before he died, and he did. My 1st book was published when I was 67 and I began selling my enlarged photographs at 74!

Oh, I am so sorry that your hands are keeping you away from the keyboard. I have related on my blog how much playing the piano has meant to me. I am sure you ran to the keyboard when you got good news and played happy songs and, conversely, did so when the news was bad by playing mournful music. The piano can be your therapist.

We share some similarities. I was a dance school accompanist and a Church organist.


I have been asked what changes I would make if I had my life to live over and playing the piano comes right to the top.

My Mother once hired a piano teacher to come to our house. His name was Mr. Brought and he was a jolly man with a ready smile and I loved him,and I was doing well at the lessons. Then,tragedy struck.

My brother got the Chicken Pox and they put a quarintine sign on our door and it stayed there for more than a month as the sickness went down through the other 3 kids.

Lessons were never resumed. I don't know why. In those days children didn't ask many questions. The motto then was "Children should be seen and not heard."

I don't know what condition your hands are in, but the electronic keyboards are much easier on the fingers than regular pianos! I just started water color classes (at 76)--my first art instruction since elementary school. I always wanted to do it and FINALLY!

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