Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Great Mystery of 1963

I took piano lessons when I was a child. In a creepy old building, up a very tall, dark staircase, in a dank, tiny studio, with the scariest little piano teacher this side of Stephen King.

I think "Miss Feelbad" was just over 4' tall (and yet, and she was still taller than I was). She was older than dirt and wore garish clown make-up: pink dots on her cheeks, great big red lips, and giant Joan Crawford eyebrows that arched UP to her hairline and back, giving her a perpetually shocked! expression. Her scariest feature, though, were the giant raised blue veins on the backs of her hands. I thought she had worms under her skin.

Have I set the stage for my unhappy musical experience?

Miss Feelbad, who really should never have been allowed near children, had a policy that you couldn't move on to a new piece of music until she felt you had mastered your current piece to her satisfaction. And that is why I played a piece of music called "Larkspur," for over a year.
Week in, week out, month after month. The whole family could sing the lyrics: "Little, little Larkspur! Little, little Larkspur!" It got to the point where my mother stopped badgering me to practice.

Looking back, it is a testament to the civility of my parents' generation, that they didn't tear Miss Feelbad's gnome-like little body limb from limb and throw her out the window of that musty little studio.

When I finally, finally moved on to another piece of music, my mother baked a cake to celebrate the occasion. It said "Hooray, Nancy. No More Larkspur!"

Not too long after the Larkspur Incident, Miss Feelbad and I had a set-to. She was always harping on me to arch your hands! arch your hands! but my hands were so
tiny that I couldn't reach the chords unless I flattened them. She told me that next time, she would line up razor blades along the edges of the keys, so if I didn't arch my hands! I would just cut them off.

And that was my last piano lesson. Mom finally agreed to let me off the hook.

I knew that somewhere, in the massive but somewhat disorganized (!) family archives, there was a picture of me, with that cake. So I went digging one day last year, and finally, finally came up with this.

"Good Girl Nancy - No More Largo!"

Largo? Largo???

And so, here is the mystery:
Either the whole family "misremembers" the name of the song I tormented us with for all those months...
is it possible that there were two songs I played so badly for so long that each warranted a celebration when I finally moved on?

Epilogue: Bro #1 also started lessons with Miss Feelbad, but almost immediately changed to a more qualified piano teacher, as his skill and talent warranted. He studied piano for years and is a wonderful pianist, composer, conductor, and music director. He, his wife, and both daughters are all accomplished musicians and performers. Bro #2 chose a different instrument (the accordion) and so had a different teacher, but also studied for years. His talents translated onto other keyboard instruments as well. My sister, I believe, escaped music lessons completely (you're welcome!). But Miss Feelbad was the beginning, middle and END of my affair with music.

And I have no explanation for that strange expression on my face here, except that even then, I hated having my picture taken.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Too funny!! Maybe one of your sibs helped to decorate the cake and misspelled it?!? What a scary, scary lady. Glad you made it out with all of your fingers!!