Music is a wonderful thing. It can lift your soul and comfort your spirit in the darkest hour. Many of us have a very intimate and deep relationship with music, it’s something we carry with us every day to work and when travelling. Our own personal life soundtrack.
My father is a piano teacher at the Conservatoire of Palermo, he has been since I can remember, and growing up and I have always admired his skills as a musician.
There was always music coming from the studio where he kept his piano. Still now, when I go back home, the first thing I hear is a familiar harmony of notes coming from the room where my father relentlessly practices still, after 50 years of playing.
When me and my siblings were kids, we were absolutely fascinated by classical music, and, one by one, we asked our father if he would teach us. I remember him smiling and giving us a very basic music sheet. We would start by learning solfeggio.
We all learned the ropes at one point, but slowly and inexorably we all stopped studying, and therefore, playing.
My youngest sister was the one who managed to progress further in the study of the piano, but once she started high school she came to an impasse and eventually stopped too.
You see, my father was never forceful in teaching us. He always said he had too many students who were forced to learn against their will to do that. Instead, he would show us, truthfully, what playing the piano was all about. Practice and determination. And most of all, constancy. He always said that we should not skip a single day of practice, were we to embark on this musical journey.
It was a difficult choice to make. Combining being a kid and then a teenager with having your father as a teacher not always works, and for one reason or another, I never really sat and started learning how to play the piano properly until I was maybe 17. I learned basic solfeggio and after a while, my father started writing pieces for me. He knew I loved stories of knights and heroes and so he composed simple pieces with a medieval, epic tune.
It was really exciting and equally frustrating. As you probably know, the hardest part of learning how to play the piano is to read music. The second one is to coordinate your right and left hand, which will be playing different keys at the same time.
I played for some months and learned the basics. After a while, I had almost a dozen pieces my father had composed for me, and looking at the increasing difficulty I was proud of myself.
However, when the time to progress to the next level came, I was going through a rough patch in my life and stopped playing. My father only gently reminded me to practice, asking me quite seldom whether I was progressing on the next piece or if I needed any help.
After a while though, he stopped asking. He realised I had other things going on in my mind and he respected that. I still practised the pieces he had written for me, every once in a while and not to forget them, but only when he wasn’t around. I was too ashamed to admit to myself that I didn’t have the mental resolve to progress in this endeavour. In time, I stopped playing completely.
Something weird happened next. When I was 23 I moved out of my parents’ house and came to London. After a year or so in which I figured what I had to do next, something occurred to me. Starting a new life and without pressure (that I was putting on myself, since my father never pressured me), I could start playing again.
I bought an electronic piano and asked my mom to send me the music sheet with the pieces my father had written for me. She gladly agreed and a week after I was staring at the first piece of the booklet.
I started again, slowly, and it did not take too long before I managed to play all those pieces again. In the meantime, I had printed some classical music sheets and started learning from them, too.
One day, when I felt confident enough, I emailed my father and told him that I had bought a piano, asking whether he could write a piece for me. The answer came later on the day. It said that he was happy to hear that and that he would start working on it soon.
After roughly a month, he sent a new piece, together with an audio recording for guidance. I was thrilled once again, and started learning it.
For a year we went on like this. He would send a piece, I would study it and ask if I had any doubt, then I would send a recording of it. I was very happy, and I believe he was, too.
Unfortunately, I can be quite volatile at times, and once life in London became too hectic, I told myself that I did not have the time to keep on playing the piano. It was a tough decision, but in the end, I sent an apologetic email to my father and sold the piano.
It was maybe a few months after that I had to relocate within London and found a room in an apartment in the North West. My flatmate was a bright Kiwi woman, and it turned out that her mother was a piano teacher. For this reason, she had a piano in her flat. It was there that something hit me, the universe wouldn’t let me stop playing.
Finding ten minutes a day to practice was tough at times, but I tried to keep that as a habit, so I wouldn’t let it go. I did not always succeed. In fact, there were whole weeks I was skipping my daily practice time, but I always went back to it, eventually.
After a bit, however, I started university in London, and between that and my job, I literally did not have an ounce of energy left to play. I abandoned my practice schedule and stopped playing for two years. I had never told my father that I had a piano in that house, didn’t want to make him think I would start and stop my studies again, which is what actually happened.
Now, after almost three years without touching a piano keyboard, I’m living somewhere else again, and I am writing this piece because a renewed determination has somehow resurfaced in me. I won’t say my time managing skills are impeccable, but they have improved substantially in the last few years. For this reason, I decided that I wasn’t done fighting for my music passion just yet.
With a renewed determination and looking at the future, I bought another electronic piano, a few weeks ago. I took my father’s dusty sheet in my hands and placing it in front of me, I stared at the black and white wondrous creature who has defeated me so many times during these years.
I’m sure it will be another challenge. One I don’t know I’m sure to face yet, but one that I’m facing with new skills and a stronger mind. In the attempt of redeeming myself and finally achieving this broken dream, I sit in front of the piano and start playing.