FINDING MY MEDIUM
CAROLYN ELLIS writes about
her love affair with the piano
As a young child of six, without understanding exactly how or why, I conceived a positive passion for the piano. In a home where no one played an instrument or even sang on key, you have to wonder how such a thing could have even happened but it surely did! After four years of begging for a piano, a generous aunt finally bought me a used spinet -- the ubiquitous 'Betsy Ross' Lester -- at which point I happily commenced weekly piano lessons.
Though my childhood lessons (1960-1964) produced alarmingly little fruit -- no theory, no technique, no inspiration -- from the sixties to today I have never stopped playing. As an adult I have always been fully aware of how clumsy my playing is, but, not knowing any better, I'm afraid I was quite content with being a musical hack. After all, I was having fun making music, wasn't I? This state of affairs drastically changed, however, when we moved to rural Texas in 2002.
The isolation, beauty and overwhelming quiet of our new country environment changed everything for me -- including my playing! To my surprise, for the first time in my life I suddenly became unhappy with churning out 'my version' of a particular piece of music and actually began longing to play with more refinement and musicianship. In hopes of achieving my goals I began playing upwards of four hours a day. (I hadn't even known I was capable of such discipline and focus!) Soon realizing that I would need a teacher if I hoped to play better, I began to think about returning to lessons -- after a more than forty year break.
When I 'found' my teacher, Allen Long, I was -- and still am -- dumbfounded by just how big a difference it makes to have a gifted teacher. ('Every note has its own color.') Week after week I come home from each lesson full of new insight and revelation. More than just becoming a better musician, however, I can see that piano lessons are actually making me a better human being. For example, my patience, personal discipline, humility, perseverance ... have all noticeably increased as a result of returning to piano lessons. Through the discipline and art of music, my personal happiness, my awareness, and kinship with all of life, have also noticeably developed, to the point that my perception of the world itself has changed. As a result, I am not only learning to hear and respond to beautiful music in a new way, but to observe and respond to beauty everywhere, be it in a child's face, a perfect haiku, a raindrop, a kind word ... Adding to my 'musical joy' is the fact that the four of our children (twelve, fourteen, eighteen and twenty-one) who still lived at home when I returned to lessons all asked to take lessons with me! Two years later one, our now fifteen-year-old, is still taking lessons with me.
While there are surely many mediums, many possible springboards, for finding truth and beauty, playing the piano is clearly the medium, the 'canvas' that speaks to me. Considering that my mother always said she named me 'Carolyn' because she thought it sounded like music, could it be that my whole love affair with the piano was essentially fated from the beginning? I like to think so.
Copyright © 28 October 2009 Carolyn Ellis,