After talking about it for years, I finally started beginner piano lessons last spring, in part because the approach of my 40th birthday felt like a good deadline.
I fantasized about learning a song that I’d be comfortable playing in public, maybe even hosting a big 40th birthday bash with New Orleans Bingo Show headlining and with me playing my 40th birthday song as a sort of boozy grown up recital.
Today I’m exactly two months out from my 40th birthday and realistically, I don’t see it happening. And that’s OK.
I’ve come a long way since my first lesson: I’m learning to read music, to play scales, to keep time, to have my left and right hands do independent things. I can look at a new piece of sheet music, puzzle out what I need to do, and if I go at it slowly, I can make the song emerge from the page.
But it’s going to be a while before I’m ready to play a song in front of people. I sometimes lose my way, or clunk the wrong note, and am still learning to recover and keep going when that happens.
John and I went to Arthur’s Tavern recently to see traditional jazz with the Grove Street Stompers. I watched the pianist in rapt attention as he effortlessly called over his shoulder to ask the trumpeter what key she wanted the next transition in — he could talk, play and transpose without breaking a sweat, and I’m still working on tapping my foot while I play.
When they took a break, I asked how long he’d been playing. He’d put himself through Yale playing piano — 55 years ago.
Yes, I’d love to play like Dick Voigt, shown here with his Big Apple Jazz Band, but I’m not going to hold myself to the standard of someone who’s got quite a few decades on me. I think it’s more important for me to celebrate my 40th birthday as part of a journey than to beat myself up about what destination I have or haven’t achieved.