November: Works in Progress

My early Christmas present arrived last week and I’ve been enjoying it enormously–not just for the pleasure of playing again after decades away from the keyboard, but because of the memories. Lots of them.

Like many kids, I started piano lessons when I was eight–not yet old enough, certainly, to appreciate the opportunity. That came later, when I realized that reading music and playing well were important accomplishments. And even later, when I picked up brass instruments in high school.

But I did have the good sense to appreciate–and admire–my teacher, Professor Gruber. We were living in Danville IL in those post-war years, and Prof. Gruber taught at his studio at the corner of Vermilion and North, cattycornered from Walgreens. He cut a distinguished figure on the streets of that small town: tall and slender, with a mane of white hair, round silver-rimmed glasses, a flowing cape, a polished walking stick.  His second-floor studio had the same elegance as his person: a grand piano, an Oriental rug, photographs of his choral groups, always fresh flowers. I was in awe of him, and I did my best to please him. When we moved out to the farm, the only thing I missed about living in town were my lessons with him.

Now, when I sit down at this little keyboard  I think of Professor Gruber. He wore the name proudly: he was the great-grandson of Franz Gruber, the composer of “Silent Night.” How fortunate I was that he taught me classical piano, beginning with the Hanon exercises and moving on to Bach and Beethoven and Handel.

Now, as I go back to the little “Minuet in G” (which still bear’s Bach’s name, even though we now know he didn’t write it) and Pachelbel’s “Canon” and Mozart’s “Turkish March,” I think of him. And imagine him, setting the metronone, sitting down to my left with the small baton he used to correct me, and saying, in his courtly way, “Now, let us see how we get on this time.”

Yes. Let us see.

Reading note: There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.–Johann Sebastian Bach








25 comments on “November: Works in Progress

  1. I took piano lessons as a kid from Mrs. Keys (really). However, she was mean and I was not interested in learning. Mom, who was a good musician (she majored in it in college, although that was at her father’s insistence, she wanted to be a teacher and later went back to college and did become an elementary school teacher). I was finally allowed to quit lessons after I’d been miserable with that for 3 or so years, I think. I recently looked thru sheet music Mom had in the piano bench and found some of the music I used, with my name and other notes on some of them. On the back of one, I laughed when I saw in my handwriting “I hate music”. My husband would have loved to have had lessons, and would probably have been good at it, as he is musical while I am not. You were lucky to have such a good teacher, Susan. Had Mrs. Keys been different, possibly I’d have enjoyed music, too.

  2. I started my piano lessons when I was six. My mother had received an unexpected gift from on of her cousins – a beautiful old upright piano! She had always wanted to learn to play, and she thought I should have the opportunity. As a little girl, I was not grateful at all. My first teacher was a sweet little lady, Mrs. Herrington. I loved her! After a short lesson, she would give me cookies and milk and let me explore her lively home just bursting with knickknacks. Unfortunately for me, Mrs. Herrington decided to return to teaching in our public school. She was my sixth grade teacher, and I loved her then, too. My next teacher was Mrs. Haley. I did not like her at all. She was very strict. My mother was paying her to teach me to play the piano, and we spent the entire thirty minutes on my lesson. There was no milk and cookies and no wandering around looking at knickknacks! I find not want to continue taking lessons, but my mom insisted. I am so thankful that she did! I had the opportunity to play for many occasions and to accompany some of my friends when they sang. I know, too, how much it means for former students to let you know how you have made a difference in their lives. Thank you for your writing! I have read almost everything you have written. My favorite series are your Beatrix Potter books. Keep writing! Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!

  3. Interesting how many of us started piano lessons early, gained from them and later gave it up. I remember my teacher who lived with her mother in a small house overlooking the river. I was always distracted by the view especially in spring when the local authorities blasted the ice and large pieces would float by. I kept up my lessons into high school, passed my Royal Conservatory exam and unexpectedly gained a high school credit for that which allowed me to drop a class I hated. BTW my Conservatory exam included “Minuet in G”.

  4. I took piano lessons in grade school and then again in high school but didn’t stick with it. One daughter tried cello, her son played violin all through high school and now his daughter has a portable keyboard that’s she’s brought over a couple of times for us to play together. (I still have all my sheet music!!). I bet it would be good for my arthritic hands to take this up again!!

  5. I love hearing people’s stories about music lessons, yours and all the comments! I took for 3 years mid-grade school, but all I learned was that my brain just couldn’t make my fingers do it, just no talent. But I continued to love piano music, and to learn to read music. The online videos of piano music showing the sheet music as it plays are such fun for me. And the quote is priceless!

  6. Love your story about the professor. What an honor to get to learn from him.
    My Mother played the piano beautifully. I started lessons at 6 which was to young. As I got older was interested in other things & never practiced like I should have. Glad you have gone back to playing.

  7. He probably wouldn’t be delighted if he could hear me, Nancy. Lots to relearn! But you’re right–it’s always interesting to hear from former students. A couple of my long-ago writing students still keep in touch. Nice to know you’ve left an impression.

  8. Kay, love your story. Since ebooks, my reading preferences have changed dramatically. Actually, there weren’t any books in the one I gave up–just boxes of photos that I moved to the closet. 🙂

  9. Loved the ‘reading note’ all you have to do is hit the keys at the right time. I chuckle at that because I played a violin as a child.

  10. I had to write when I saw that you had given up a bookcase for your keyboard. I gave up my piano for three bookcases. Kay

  11. Loved reading your post. I taught piano for 40 + years. (used Hanon for sure and always included classical composers as well along with music my wanted to learn). Your professor would be delighted if he could read your post…I occasionally hear from former students saying that they are still playing or have taken it up again. Music🎶 To my ears!

  12. Learning to play music bring joy to the soul for the rest of your life.So glad that you can be in touch with this again.I was 87 years old on Nov. 12th, and still am grateful every time I sit down to play.

  13. I love that you are back at it. I began piano lessons when I was 5 and played until I was 12. I so regret stopping – I love music and would love to be able to play now. But when you’re a kid, there are more important things, or so you think LOL

  14. Hi Susan,

    What a wonderful Christmas present you received! It’s so special to have the opportunity to have played music as a child and then to start up again in later life. I, too, started music lessons, violin, in 4th grade and played throughout high school My teacher lived up the block, came to my house and charged $2 (boy, am I dating myself) for a half hour.

    I stopped playing after high school and did not pick it up again until my son, who also studied violin, left for college. I asked his teacher if he would give me lessons. He agreed and I have been playing ever since. I really had to relearn so much: my bowing was all wrong and my intonation was all all off. I forgot all of the positions with the exception of the first and third but I did have a sense of the instrument and with lots of patience from my teacher (who plays in the Buffalo Phil) and encouragement from my husband {who laughs and says he can only play the radio} I am progressing.

    Recently I met some ladies who invited me to join their informal string quartet. I even played a few times in a local community orchestra. Music has once again become a big part of my life. Enjoy your musical adventure.

  15. I enjoyed this post, as it reminded me so much of my own experience post war. I had a teacher from Germany who came to New Mexico and she was my hero. When I was young, I didn’t want to practise and my mother tried to convince me that one day I would be glad. And I was. Your small piano sounds ideal.

  16. I started piano lessons at six — oh yes, Hanon, and Czerny! — but I never had a teacher who inspired me as Professor Gruber did you. I stopped taking lessons at 15 because I so dreaded recitals, but I played on for myself. Though I’ve always loved classical music first and foremost, I found enormous pleasure later in playing Scott Joplin too.

  17. Professor Gruber seems bigger than life! Perhaps you could use him as inspiration for a book character….

  18. Susan, my parents started me on the piano when I was six. As you noted, too young to fully appreciate the opportunity that was ahead of me. I did take lessons into my high school years. Currently, in our home, we have my husband’s grandparents’s piano from the late 1800s. It tunes well, and I enjoy plunking around it when I take the time. I have accompanied my husband (who plays brass instruments) on it a few times at our church.

  19. Enjoy every minute. I have spent most of my life teaching others to play. I’ve met the most wonderful people! Speaking of wonderful, Voodoo Lily was great fun. Thanks so much!

  20. Beth, as you can see, this is a very small instrument–just 61 keys.I had to give up a bookcase to make room for it, but it was worth doing.

  21. We were supposed to get the piano from my grandmother’s old house in eastern Washington. But…because our dad didn’t want to drive a few hours to go get it, it went to my much-loved (and very musical) aunt. Who ended up having four boys. None of whom played the piano. Ever.
    I so wish I had room in my very little house for even a small spinet, but alas. I do love listening to classical piano, however. Nothing like it.

  22. Such wonderful memories to be taught by such a gifted teacher and being able to continue today with that awesome present🌈

  23. As always, I enjoyed your musings, but this one was especially enjoyable, bringing to mind a slower, gentler time. Thanks for sharing. Can hardly wait to get my hands on The Voodoo Lily!!

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