Did you ever take piano lessons? I did, when I was 12? But allow me to backtrack a bit for when I first noticed the piano at home. My music loving father, he played the piano; he played by ear – ouido. He had this big record collection – Bach, Chopin, Wagner, Strauss, Mozart, Brahms and Debussy, Liszt and Schubert and Tchaikovsky and his 2 all time fun favorites, Liberace and Spike Jones. He would listen carefully to Chopin and Bach on this fine record player console and then would go straight to play that part of the piece on the upright Steinway in our living room. But he played by ear. No notes. Just a full appreciation and grasp of the music. Sadly, no one took after him, and his gift. And so for us, the piano lessons, note reading and all.
My first memory of these lessons were not mine. I remember, every few days the piano teacher/my paternal grandfather (who wasn’t really my grandfather, as he was my grandmother’s second husband – my parents called him Tio Pepe, but pronounced the Tio as Cho, so it sounded like ChoPepe and us siblings, we played with the name and secretly called him Chops, but I digress) came to the house. His arrival was ceremoniously announced by the delicious, heady aroma of cigars partnered with a distinct smell of brown paper bag stuffed with precious, original – was there anything else then in 60s – Marvel Super Heroes comic books. Nobody ever saw Chops smoke, never knew if they were in fact hand rolled and Cuban or maybe just a regular, local tobacco leaf rolled cigar but he certainly reeked of it. And I learned to like it. As if it came with the music. My father would call out to my sister, Nina and my brother Eddie, “ChoPepe is here. Come down.” The eldest, Vicky, was the ballet dancer and so was not required to learn piano. I was glad I was too young then and so was not called to have lessons with him; I was actually afraid of Chops. He was stooped and had a formidable stern look; not that he ever looked at me, I believe I was invisible to him. Nina would sit quietly and promptly do the Hanon finger exercises for the warm up before moving on to the other pieces and from behind the dividing wall, I would see Eddie sit next to the paper bag and look through the comic books – Comics, we called them. I watched Chops put, what looked to me, a worn wooden ruler under my sister’s hands to raise them, as I learned later on, for the proper form in piano playing. Chops was impatient and every now and then, his voice would raise maybe an octave higher when he perhaps noticed that there was no marked improvement in the playing, a sure sign that there was no practice being done before lesson day came. Before long it would be Eddie’s turn. And having raised his voice earlier, probably assumed his second student was no better. No matter. The strangest thing was that I never heard my parents force my siblings to practice to improve their playing. Maybe, I’m thinking now, Chops was there to teach also because he had a sad and sorry life, according to my father (but that’s another story) and the lessons were like helping Chops make a living. And then Chops stopped coming.
When I got older, am guessing I was 12, a new piano teacher came. For Eddie still, my younger sister Trixie and myself. I remember her, a most kindly, soft spoken, elderly (at least to me, then) Ms. Acosta. She had short tight curly hair and smelled like she sucked on menthol candy all day, the smell seemed to come out of her skin. She had soft looking, sausage like fingers and was ever so gentle in her teaching. I liked Ms. Acosta and even if I was not good at playing the piano, I looked forward to seeing her every week. This one did not last long too. We were all growing up and because not one of us was destined to be a concert pianist, the piano teachers stopped coming. But my father continued to play.
When we moved to what was to be our last home as a family, my father bought a baby grand piano. This piano had its own interesting history. White, it was, as artist Barry Manilow, who was scheduled to perform in Manila, requested for a white baby grand . The producers of the concert ordered one from Yamaha and Barry Manilow’s concert was, for some reason, cancelled. My father knew the owners of the Yamaha store and quickly offered to buy it. It was on this piano he started composing. One of his compositions was picked to be the title song of a movie – a Filipino produced Love story and was given life and lyrics by then famous Filipino lyricist George Canseco. Kelan Sasabihin Mahal Kita, roughly translated When Will I Tell you that I Love you.
My father passed some years after and my son started piano lessons on the baby grand. When we moved homes, my mother sold the piano.
The other day, I bought my son his own upright 1967 Yamaha. When it was delivered, I casually ran my fingers through the keys. It’s been so long. But when I touched the keys, everything came back me, my childhood, Chops, Ms. Acosta, and my father. And I decided right then and there to bring the music back. I will, this coming month start piano lessons again. Piano lessons at sixty.