Thursday, August 13, 2009

Early Piano Memories


I remembered Mr. Lightburn (did he have a first name?) when my 76-year-old piano teacher asked about my first teacher. I learned much later he was an alcoholic who also taught piano, who also worked in a night club.

She told me about her first teacher who seemed to have this penchant for putting his hand under her bottom as they sat on the bench together. After she mentioned it to her mother, he was quickly dismissed.

My thoughts went back to Mr. Lightburn, who rolled up at 8:30 am in his big Cadillac every Saturday morning. Can you believe my parents did this to me?! They probably got a discounted rate of $5 a lesson for taking that time slot.

He always smelled like he had just splashed on after-shave. I suppose that was to camouflage the stale alcohol on his breath. But I never suspected anything.

He definitely did not know how to talk to kids. So he would say things like “How’s school?” and I would say “Fine.”

I played mostly classical music, moving through the John Thompson series from “Teaching Little Fingers to Play” through Grade 4 or so. I also supplemented this with some music I inherited from a distant relative, like Chopin’s Military Polannaise, which I played for a full year.

Mr. Lightburn once told me that if I had a really good lesson, he would write a piece of music for me (like he did for Nan Youngblood). Either he forgot or I never had a “really good lesson.”

He once played St. Louis Blues for me. I realized how much I like jazz, how much I liked that feeling of syncopation.

Maybe that’s why I love playing the Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom. Maybe that’s why I ordered a book of all the rags he ever wrote.

I felt happy as I played the rag today and my teacher offered some suggestions for fingering and rhythm. It was not anything like the lessons I had on Saturday mornings with old Mr. Lightburn, who must not have had a first name.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kristin said...

My early Saturday morning lessons involved a pool; I can empathize. When was the last time you thought about Mr. Lightburn?!

9:58 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I left behind many of the memories of people from my little N. Florida town when I drove north and began to lock my car doors for the first time. Memories of Mr. L were among them.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

Hi Barbara.
I am commenting here about beads because I don't have your email address. I have found big bags of wooden beads in many colors and sizes and shapes at craft stores like Michaels Crafts. I think they have stores nationwide. They are quite inexpensive and great for kids to string. Yarn, heavy crochet thread, even shoelaces are great for stringing. Actually they make an elastic cord for stringing beads which is also good, especially for bracelets. What a great project for the kids you read with!

12:22 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

My first "real" piano teacher, who I studied with for about a year after five years with my mother, had all of his students memorize a poem or a passage of Shakespeare that he would write by memory in our assignment book each week. So I had to recite a new poem that I'd just memorized in the car on the way over at the start of every lesson. I wish I had appreciated the value of that experience back then, and started the memorizing earlier in the week so that I could remember some of those poems better now. But I'm pretty sure it helped me to become good at cramming for exams!

The Bolcom rags are lovely, especially from a harmonic standpoint.

5:54 PM  

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