My Player Piano



Some of my early music books. Everything I learned about playing the piano I learned from the John Thompson and Hanon series.

Ode to the piano!

It’s dulcet tones, arpeggios, allegro con brío and stunning crescendos. F Sharp, B Minor, songs in the key of G!  Forte, mezzo piano or pianissimo–I love them all!

My hat goes off to anyone who can play the the beautiful, illustrious, glorious piano. No matter your level of ability, know that you are carrying on a long tradition of enriching our quality of life with the lilting notes of an instrument steeped in history.

Of course, you should know that for years I myself played the piano. Quite adept at it, I might add. I swear I could hear my mother weeping whenever I played Chopsticks. “I paid for years of lessons for this?” Blissfully, I’d smile in agreement.

Playing the piano was my escape. Some say I could’ve been a contender.  A concert pianist slated one day to perform at Carnegie Hall!

Actually no one said that, but I wanted to believe.

The idea to first sign up for lessons came to me one day, while still in junior high.

“Monica, you should learn to play the piano,” a voice inside my head said. “The sooner the better. After all, at 14 you’re too old to be considered a child prodigy.”

I was determined to make it happen, no matter how expensive a new piano might be.  Briskly, I marched into the kitchen where my parents were, closed my eyes, and with some trepidation, proudly announced,

“I want a piano because I want to learn to play!”

I expected cheerful applause from my mother. A pat on the back from my father. “Bravo, Monica!”

But nothing. I looked around to see if they’d heard me.

My father was reading the newspaper, enjoying his afternoon demitasse of espresso, or “cafecito,” as he called it.  My mother was sorting her grocery coupons.  I repeated my statement. Still no response. Dejected, I retreated to my room. It seemed a piano was not in my future.

But a week or so later, I learned that my mother had checked the PennySaver for second-hand pianos and my father had put an offer on one. It was scheduled to arrive that very day.

And when it did, I was overwhelmed with emotion. A piano!  I had briefly envisioned a baby grand piano arriving. Something befitting a future concert pianist, even though I knew there was no room in the house for such a large, expensive instrument.


This player piano reminds me a lot of the one I once had.

But when the piano arrived it was an upright player piano, circa 1920-something. My father had plunked down $100 for this piano that no longer worked as a player piano but could still be used in the traditional sense. I was in heaven. A piano of my very own!

My mother found an instructor who lived close by.  A Filipino woman, Mrs. Ponce, who’d once been a professional pianist performing  regularly at the Waldorf Astoria, one of New York’s fanciest and poshest hotels.

She charged $5 for a one-hour session, which I took weekly.  And everyday—weekends too—I’d sit at my player piano practicing, practicing, practicing for two hours a day. Minimum.

I loved playing the piano. I even loved all the piano drills Mrs. Ponce taught me. In fact I still have some of my music books.

With time I mastered “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven. “Für Elise,” too.  I also played a selection of show tunes from a Rodgers and Hammerstein song book, and a simplified version of “Carmen” by Bizet.

So, when did it all stop for me?

When I went to college and no longer had access to a piano.  That was the day the music died. I moved on and filled my days with other things. I’d still play when I returned home for breaks but given time, even that stopped.

Ironically, when my daughter was in grade school, I decided to play the piano again. I was rusty, no longer remembering how to play the music I once so enjoyed performing, and more than anything wanted to relive the joy I felt in playing.

But when my daughter heard me talking about it, she begged for lessons, too. As I could only afford lessons for one,  I signed her up instead. That lasted two or three years before she quit. With the piano gathering dust, I donated it to the local Boys and Girls Club.

To this day, my favorite type of instrumental music features the piano.  When I listen, I can close my eyes and remember that there was a time when I too played the piano.

And  my level of playing may have been average, but to me it was divine.

Postscript: Today I contacted my daughter’s former piano teacher and told her that I was ready to sign up for lessons. She helped me select a good quality keyboard, as I no longer own a piano.  As soon as it arrives, I’ll be taking lessons again.  Because, after all these years, it seems you’re never too old to start over.  😉


14 thoughts on “My Player Piano

  1. That’s exciting! Something to look forward to! Music makes us feel so alive. Helps us sit with our feelings, gives us access to creativity that we don’t get from other experiences in the same manner. Enjoy your lessons. Have fun with it. I would like to try my hand at knitting again. My crochet is pretty good, but I don’t remember enough about knitting to try on my own again. (Turn up the music today, love. We need it!)

  2. I’m using those same books to teach another little girl from my town! Funny to see them on someone else’s blog! Hope you are practicing, practicing!

    • Never too late, indeed! I found my old Thompson books from first and second grade level. What a thrill when I tried playing and somehow my fingers started remembers what notes to play. Amazing.

  3. My heart sang with joy when I saw this post. Oh I could tell you stories about my piano and the one I have now. My mum was brilliant but stopped short of her teacher’s requirement. I learned on her piano, which was my grandmother’s. I had that very same John Thompson’s book – seeing it almost made me weep happy tears and do a happy dance that you will soon be going to lessons. We will have to chat more about it. I recently found Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago in an antique store. I used to play it so often… I have rediscovered ‘Somewhere my love’.

    I don’t play as often but when I do, it is the most joyous feeling in the world. I stopped at Grade 7 Royal School of Music. My teacher was horrific and too difficult. I was burnt out. In hindsight, I wish I had gone on. I later bought a book with my favorite pieces which had Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring and Pachelbel’s Cannon in D and taught myself to play again with the happiness I had once lost.

    I taught my daughter with John Thompson’s too. She is now learning Eine Kline Nacht Musik because I love Mozart, and I play Carmen so often, she is also learning it. Although I think Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King from Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is her favorite.

    • MM, it sounds like you were much more advanced than me. I would love to have heard you play. I was a total connoisseur of any of my friends who could play. My best friend, Lynn, was fantastic and every time I’d go to her house, I’d ask her to play all my favorites–from Hayden to Elton John. And happily, she’d oblige me! Those were the days. Before smartphones, we’d actually do things like this!

  4. You are never too old to learn anything new I was once told. Go and enjoy the keyboard Monica.

    I used to play the piano, the only snag was I played the right notes but in the wrong order!!!

    When I was young I wanted to learn to play the bagpipes, much to the relief of my parents I never did!!

    • The bagpipes! Oh goodness, what that would’ve sounded like thank goodness we’ll never know. The piano is fabulous. I wish more kids would pull themselves away from the video games and learn to play a musical instrument. What a feeling of accomplishment it brings!

  5. Brava, Monica!! One is NEVER too old for music lessons. I, too, played piano as a kid. In fact, I even took some lessons in college, thinking I wanted to major in music. But when I learned I’d have to perform solo, on a stage, from memory, before a panel of judges to get my grade, I shrank in terror! And, while we still have a piano, sadly it sits generally untouched. Even Domer won’t play it when he comes home. And to think how much enjoyment it used to give me — well, who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get back to it, too!

  6. My experience with the piano seems to mirror yours. I loved to play as a kid but college and being poor post-college prevented me from having a piano and playing regularly for probably 15 years. I just got back into the last few years and have enjoyed it immensely.

    • My new piano keyboard arrived yesterday and the stand today. I was able to set it up, plug it in and gather my old music books, some of which seem on the verge of coming apart at the binding. But much to my surprise, as I played a few of the old pieces, it all started coming back to me. I can’t wait to start my lessons in the next couple of weeks. I felt such joy tonight feeling my fingers hitting the right notes, most of the time. Bliss.

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