I have a thing about piano teachers.
I hate them.
It’s a shame because the piano is such a fantastic instrument but I always found it too difficult to concentrate with some weirdo hunkering up far too close for comfort on the piano stool.
The truth is, I was horribly unlucky.
I really wanted to learn the piano properly. From a fairly early age I picked out tunes on my nan’s ancient upright in her front room. It was walnut veneer with candlestick holders and her home-crocheted doilies draped over the top. Fab. The sludge-green moquette piano stool was brimful of sheet music which dated back to the 1920’s. Scott Joplin right through to melodies of the mid-1950’s, which was where her music tastes stopped dead (although she was rumoured to have possessed an Everly Brothers single).
I’d riffle through and spread Lilac Series sheet music all over the rug before selecting one, purely by the design on the cover and ask her to play it. She usually did.
She was a traditional benign, lovely silver-haired gran; short of stature and wide of girth who wore nylon housecoats in the week and pale crimplene dresses on Sundays. She sat in a rocking chair in the kitchen next to the range where she made bakestones (Welshcakes). My brother and I were fortunate because she believed children should be indulged.
Watching her playing the piano was like seeing someone yielding themselves utterly to a particularly fine hallucinogenic ‘upper.’ A faraway look came into her eyes, she stopped reading the music and just played with great enthusiasm and joy. Blaze Away was a favourite. If you spoke to her she’d give you a dreamy smile and nod absent-mindedly. A reply was too much to hope for.
This state of semi-nirvana looked desirable. When I began to pick out Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata, she was encouraging. Much concentrated pestering, backed up by nan, led to the purchase of a piano. It was plain dark-wood and needed a good tuning but it was a decent tone.
Then my first piano teacher was foisted on me. He was probably early twenties with a craterous complexion and weapons-of-destruction spots which might spontaneously zap anyone who moved within a four foot radius. He worked at the same factory as dad, who employed him purely as a comradely gesture and undoubtedly not on recommendation.
He arrived at 6.30pm every Tuesday reeking of dinner. Always sausage, egg and chips. He sat very close to me on the piano stool so I got every nuance of chipolata, every suggestion of ketchup.
I liked playing but I hated him. The loathing was so intense that I stopped practising in the hope that he’d give up and my parents would get me someone else.
We’d go through the whole lesson and he wouldn’t say anything to my face but would snitch on me immediately afterwards. I could hear him in the hallway telling mum “It’s no good me coming here week after week if she doesn’t practice in between.”
Eventually he did give up, I discovered the guitar, learned Status Quo chords in an afternoon and we sold the piano so my father could buy his beloved Yamaha organ. Curiously, when he played, he too entered the same dream-state as nan.
Later….much, much later (no-one remembers SuperTed these days) I fell in love with the film Local Hero and needed to brush up my keyboard skills in order to play “Going Home” convincingly. I had the sheet music but somehow it wasn’t happening.
I’d heard concert-standard Tchaikovsky wafting across the back garden from a house behind us that summer so made enquiries and rang the pianist who agreed to give me a little tuition. I did explain that I only had a Yamaha keyboard but although he said a piano was preferable, it wasn’t an insurmountable problem.
I should have known it would all end in tears. The evening of the first lesson I rang the doorbell of his large house and the door swung slowly open. No-one was there. I walked into the hallway hesitantly and a soft voice said “Straight ahead, thank you, into the living room.”
The piano teacher had been standing behind the door. I did as I was bid and sat down at an incredibly glossy grand piano – the first I’d ever played.
From my point of view the lessons went well. “Going Home” was sorted and we moved on to the Cheers theme tune and classics but over the course of four months of lessons he didn’t look me in the eye at all. Shy, I thought. He was scrupulously polite and softly-spoken but not once did he smile or say anything remotely friendly. Just occasionally, I felt he was less than impressed with my burgeoning talent. Admittedly, playing the Yamaha at home meant my touch at his beautiful grand piano was less than perfect. But I hadn’t realised what the cumulative effect might be.
During one lesson, I was plonking my way concentratedly through a Beethoven piano sonata when he lost it.
He jumped up from his seat beside me and bellowed across the room “No! Stop. Stop. Stop! Beethoven is a ROMANTIC COMPOSER!!”
I sat, mute and frozen on the stool like a contrite schoolgirl (I was a mother-of-two by now) while he stalked around the room in circles for several minutes. I felt ashamed that I’d so obviously caused grevious bodily harm to his finely tuned musical sensiblilties.
Finally, when he regained his composure and sat down some distance away. I sensed the end was nigh.
“I really do not see the point of continuing unless you can practice on a piano” he said bluntly.
“You will not improve.”
So ended the last lesson. Three weeks later, in the early hours of Christmas Day, a man was arrested four miles away for pouncing on a woman in an alleyway and committing a violent indecent assault.
It was my piano teacher.
I’ve always felt guilty that my insensitive treatment of Beethoven might have tipped him over the edge.
The Magistrates detained him under the Mental Health Act. Just as well I didn’t have any more lessons booked, really.
Diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenic.
So much for my Local Hero.
Postscript: Recently bought an upright piano. Nothing special. Slightly honky-tonk tone but suits me. I’m astonished at how rusty one gets.
But I’m so pleased with it that I just stop by and look at it every now and then as I’m passing, let alone play it. Clair de Lune was the catalyst. Need to be able to play that one. Dusted off the old sheet music to Your Song, Going Home (Local Hero theme) and various songbooks ….
What worries me is that if I want to improve quickly or at least leave my Les Dawson impressions behind, I might have to swallow my pride and – ahem – look for a piano teacher.