There aren't a lot of things I'd do differently as a child; only one, really. I'd have paid more attention to the piano. I am not musically inclined to begin with, which is not to say I don't wish I were.
My dad was an insurance agent and one night, I suppose, he got around to selling someone some life insurance in their home up in the Greek Town section of Fitchburg, and I imagine it got mentioned that the gentleman's wife was a piano teacher of some note. (Get it?)
I then imagine that it was suggested while sealing the insurance deal that one of his children -- probably the dimmest bulb in the lot -- would be more than happy to partake of her expertise.
And so it came to pass that I, the dimmest bulb in the lot, got to take piano, which was pretty OK with me. When I was young, my mother was a hell of a piano player and had a beautiful piano, right up until the time my Dad decided to paint it pink in that '50s/'60s splatter paint style.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but then the piano was moved into the -- at that time -- "playroom," which was painted pink in that '50s/'60s style. It's a wonder we didn't crash into the damned thing which became invisible.
My mother, whenever she had time, which wasn't often with a brood of five kids and a husband who was frequently out selling insurance and enslaving his children to the piano teacher, would pull out the sheet music and play away and it was beautiful, as I recall.
So the idea of being able to play piano like she did , if not attractive to me, was at least acceptable. So every Tuesday at 2, I'd leave school early and head for her apartment. She'd always be watching "Let's Make a Deal," and it always disappointed me when she turned it off to turn her attention to me. After all, what kid wouldn't be entranced by the possibility of trading in the shiny new car for what Jay Stewart had on the display floor. It was naked greed before we knew its name.
My piano teacher started me off with "Crunchy Flakes," which even a young lad of my academic standing recognized as "Jingle Bells." But I didn't learn piano the way most people did -- by learning notes and reading music. Instead, each note had a number next to it and each note pertained to a different finger. A "3," for example, would be the same finger you'd use when listening to Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken, depending on your persuasion. It was Piano Hero.
It worked, at least enough to bang out Jingle Be.... Crunch Flakes. But you can't play the piano without reading music, and I never learned it. Granted, part of this was my own doing. I was supposed to go home and practice, but I never did. Sure, I can blame it on not wanting to be seen at a pink piano, but I'd be lying.
Eventually, I stopped taking lessons and somewhere along the line, when I wasn't looking, the piano disappeared, I'm sure to my mother's dismay.
So whenever I hear someone playing the piano the way I'd like to, I always think of my mother's playing, and the curse of Crunchy Flakes.
An interview with Tom Berge
5 months ago