As I look back at more than sixty years since I started learning piano, which eventually led to a career as a professional pianist and teacher, my mind keeps on bringing memories of where it all started in 1949. Most other musicians to whom I’ve spoken on the subject usually give credit to a recital or concert, whether it was in a theatre, hall or in the case of local brass bands, in a band rotunda at their local park. Dances in local halls and ballrooms where the future musician heard a dance band or orchestra often is the kick start to learning piano or another instrument of their, or their parent’s, choosing.
MY FAMILY MUSIC BACKGROUND
Both of my parents were musical to a degree. My Mum played the piano by ear [ often with too much sustain pedal ] and Dad was a church organist on the old style “pump with the foot pedals” organ. Dad had been a church choir member since he was very young and had a very powerful baritone voice. Mum owned an 1896 Thurmer upright piano which had been part of our household for as long as I could remember. My sister still owns it, and it plays remarkably well.
A VERY DIFFERENT INSPIRATION.
From the time I was very young, about five, there were continuous, not very subtle hints from both of my parents about me learning piano. No way, said Harry, that is a game for sissies – I want to play cricket, football, cycling, fishing and exploring this wonderful world in which we live. Besides, the other kids at school would make fun of me.
The real reason I started learning piano was because I was bribed into it while we were on our annual beachside holiday at Inverloch, Victoria, Australia, which was sixty miles from home. One of the attractions was horse rides which cost ten shillings [ about one dollar ] A horse ride at ten shillings was ten weeks of my one shilling per week pocket money, and I was captivated by the thought of mounting up and going for a ride of several hours duration. When I asked my folks to pay for the outing, that is when the bribe took place ! The contract / agreement was that I would begin learning piano when school resumed. Ha ! I thought – I’ll be able to wriggle out of that when we’re home and continue with my very boyish activities. How wrong can a boy be? The deal was set with no escape clause. Sixty two years later I’m still doing and loving it.
MY VERY FIRST TEACHER.
Mum and Dad found Miss Thirwell, a spinster lady with Batchelor of Music degree and years of experience helping people learning piano. She taught piano at her home in a room I vividly remember as being dark and dingy with deep red drapes over the one window in the music room, and a very nice upright piano.
So began my efforts at learning piano. Miss Thirwell very particular about posture and technique, and I seemed to make OK progress. I clearly can bring to mind the first music book by John M Williams called“First Year at the Piano” STILL AVAILABLE ! Within weeks simple tunes were learnt, but by then football season beckoned and my concentration waned. One afternoon after showing her that my ten fingers behaved like ten unsynchronized thumbs, in frustration she picked up a wooden ruler and gave me a hard whack across the back of my hand, and yelled at me. My reaction was to grab the ruler and break it across my knee. I stood up and with all the authority a nine year old could muster I told her there would be no more lessons. I escaped to Dad’s car waiting outside. Football here I come……………