IRH - The Piano - wasted lessons

This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.

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IRH - The Piano - wasted lessons

Post by David » Sun January 6, 2019, 10:26 pm

The Piano
wasted lessons, 1950s
by: Russ Lancaster
"Aw Mama, do I have to?", I pleaded. It was summer time and the boys of Washington Avenue were waiting for me to come out and play. It was the early 1950s when we lived in the Vickers' house next door to Chief Hicks. My mom had decided my sister and I needed somerefinement and had signed us up for piano lessons.

"Sure you do, young man!", she replied. "I spent good money for these piano lessons and it's your time to be there; Get a move on!"

I trudged out the door trying to keep my friends from seeing me. I walked down the hill on Washington Avenue and turned left onto Kent Street. My piano teacher would be waiting for me and I'd best not be late. She didn't tolerate lateness.

It's been so long ago that I didn't remember her name anymore until Doug Gray reminded me, it was Mrs. Thompson.. She was old, strict - yet kind. The only thing I really liked about her was that she lived near Cynthia Honeycutt. Cynthia was the heart throb of all us young boys back then. We weren't quite teen agers yet, but we recognized her beauty. Maybe, just maybe, I would get a glimpse of her.

This old teacher would spend a good hour with me but it was a lost cause. I couldn't grasp the concept of reading music no matter how much patience she had. I would try to learn the simple tunes she gave me by some kind of number system rather than by learning notes. It was difficult to practice because we had no piano at home. Mrs. Hicks, next door, did have a piano and would allow us once or twice a week to practice there at her house. I'm sure we got on her nerves but she never said so.

My sister, Fran, didn't have much more luck than me trying to learn to play the piano. We thought of all the excuses we could not to take lessons but my mom was adamant. Then, one day we finally had a (so we thought) convincing argument. We told our mom that it just wasn't right to be able to practice once or twice a week at the Hicks' house. We told her we needed a piano of our own if we were ever going to learn. We didn't know much about finances but knew for sure we couldn't afford to buy a piano.

A few weeks later we came home from school and found our mom standing in the doorway waiting for us with a big smile on her face. She said, "I have a surprise for you in the living room."

Fran and I glanced back and forth at each other as we looked at the old, worn but fully functional piano sitting there. We had been outfoxed again.

Having a piano at home didn't seem to improve our ability to play any more than not having one. We had no musical talent. It was obvious to us but my mom was temporarily blinded by pride.

As daylight turned to darkness one day late that fall, three neighborhood girls knocked on our front door. I knew them all well. There stood Cynthia along with Martha Sue Warwick and Sue Strickland. I don't know why they were there but suspect my mom had something to do with that too.

They were invited in and we sat around the living room. Soon there were fresh baked cookies and Kool-Aid brought in for all of us. Mom wanted the girls and I to spend an evening playing the piano.

Somehow, I persuaded Mom to leave the room and we took a few stabs at the piano. We were boring each other to death.

Then, one of the girls decided we would play some games. She named two games, "Spin the bottle" and "Post Office". I had never heard of either game and the girls laughed delightedly. They would teach me!

As you know, both of these are kissing games and there was no way I could lose. I was the only boy in the room.

My mom stayed out of sight (though she probably figured out what was going on once the noise from the piano stopped). We spun the bottle a few times and I was obligated to peck a girl on the lips (their rule) every time I lost (or won). "This ain't so bad", I thought.

Then we progressed to "post office". Now, I'm still not sure exactly what the rules are in that game but know it involved going in the closet with one of the girls and kissing her in the dark. I made my first two trips in there and pecked the girl on the lips with a quick kiss. Then, I found myself in the closet with Martha Sue. She told me she was going to teach me the right way to kiss!

Wow! She knew what she was doing and the other girls knew I had just been taught a lesson when we came out of the closet. My face was red and my head was spinning. Martha Sue surely knew how to kiss all right.

As Christmas neared, my pals weren't too thrilled with me still taking piano lessons. They chided me when they saw me sneaking down the street to my weekly one hour lesson.

My teacher even gave me a Christmas present, a tiny white bust of some composer named Listz or something like that. I acted thrilled though I was disappointed. I would have liked it better had she not given me anything if this was the best she could do.

Shortly after that, Fran and I told our mom we no longer wanted to take piano lessons. We just weren't cut out for it. I could see the disappointment in my mom's eyes but she finally understood. The piano would be gone in less than a week. I don't know if it was returned to the place it was bought, given to the Church as a gift or what. It was simply gone and we knew better than to bring the subject up again.

I thought no more about pianos until I was in the 8th or 9th grade. Then, I told my mom I wanted to take lessons again. She raised her eyebrows at me but the hope she had that I must have some kind of talent took over and she agreed.

This time, I was to take my lessons during school hours from Lois Pearce. I don't remember where I would practice this time but must have had some means available to me.

After less than two practice sessions, Mrs. Pearce announced to me that we were having a recital at the Fairview Heights School auditorium in one week. She had programs printed and I found myself listed on the front page (not good). Here I was, one of her older students and I was to perform the only thing I had learned so far, a little beginners tune called "Birthday Party:. The tune had only three lines and took about 20 seconds to play, but that was all I knew how to play.

I had no idea what a recital was but was told to be there 30 minutes before I was to play. I didn't mention this "recital " to my folks until just before I rode my bike to Fairview Heights that evening. I had just come in from playing football with my buddies and was wearing a dirty T-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

"Hey Mama", I shouted. "I'll be back in a little while, I have a recital at Fairview Heights." She didn't have time to stop me before I was out the door. I surely wish she had.

I showed up and looked at all the other boys and girls wearing suits and ties, frilly dresses and such. Their hair was all neatly combed and they were clean. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Mrs. Pearce didn't know exactly what to do with me. She told me my name would be called, I was to walk out on stage, play my 20 second piece, bow to the applause and exit stage left.

There was no way out. I heard my name called, walked onto stage, saw my mom in the audience, played my 20 second piece in about 8 seconds, jerked a very quick bow and walked quickly off stage. I heard some snickering and some outright gasps but I had done what needed to be done.

When I got back home, my mom didn't scold me. She just educated me. Next recital I would act like I knew what was going on.

It was several months later when Mrs. Pearce handed me a piece of music and told me I needed to learn it for an upcoming recital. It was a long piece lasting several minutes. I practiced it for weeks learning it in my own way... I still couldn't read music.

When recital day came, I was prepared. I had on a suit and tie, my shoes were polished, my hair slicked back and I knew how to play my recital piece.

This time, I walked slowly onto the stage and looked directly at the audience. I bowed even before I took my place at the piano and played my piece perfectly. I stood, walked to the front of the stage and bowed again and then exited the stage with confidence. I felt good about the experience.

Soon after during a school day, we heard an announcement over the P.A. system. There would be an assembly in the auditorium (at Hamlet High School) and some of Mrs. Pearce's students would perform their recital pieces. I hoped I wouldn't be one of them, but then heard my name called.

This time, I walked down to the stage in front of my classmates and those of other classes and began to play my recital piece. About two lines into the piece I forgot the music. Somehow, I switched and played another beginner's tune right in the middle of my recital piece. I pulled it off with only my fellow music students (and Mrs. Pearce) realizing what I had done.

After the assembly, Mrs. Pearce told me that at least I hadn't just frozen up and that wasn't a bad thing. I thanked her and then told her I wouldn't be taking any more piano lessons.

So, I never took any more lessons but my piano days were not over even though I thought so. Many years later, in the early 1980s, my wife decided my youngest daughter needed piano lessons. I quickly thought back to the things I just wrote above but knew that my wife DID have musical talents. She could play by ear or by reading music and was quite apt at the accordion. I thought, even if my daughter can't learn, at least my wife can play the piano.

We went to a piano sale in Southern Pines and picked out a piano which was delivered within a day or so. It turned out that my daughter did have musical talent. She began playing even before her first lessons (by the same Lois Pearce). She could hear a tune and sit down and play it a few moments later. She also was taught by Mrs. Pearce how to read music.

We ended up spending a lot of money on different musical instruments for this youngest daughter of mine. In addition to the piano, at her urging, we bought her a clarinet and a saxophone. She could play them all and play them well.

She ended up in our Church orchestra here in Jacksonville and spent one summer touring Florida, Georgia and South Carolina playing with them. She later went on to the University of South Florida where she furthered her musical talents.

She later married, moved away from home, had children of her own and I haven't heard her play any kind of music for years. Her clarinets and saxophone are still here in my house as well as that old piano.

Those instruments are now silent, I still have no musical abilities and I have no daughter at home to play them. My wife is too busy to use them so they sit in their cases and in the living room silent.

Each time I look at that piano in the living room, I think back to my own piano days and how bad I was at trying to play it. I also remember the joy of listening to my daughter filling the room with beautiful music from our own piano and wish I could talk her into playing it again.

But most of all... I remember those days and those kids of my youth and, as always, I remember Hamlet

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