One of my unrealized dreams in life is to learn how to play the piano really well. As a kid, I took piano lessons from the 3rd through 8th grade, but I didn’t enjoy it. I never really learned how to read music, and I played most songs by ear.
As I grew older, I began to think about how gratifying it would be to just sit down at a piano and play whatever sheet music was in front of me. Shortly after we married, my wife and I bought a cherry wood upright Yamaha that we put in our front living room. For a few years, I would plop down at the piano and play the 10 or so songs I knew by heart, and work my way through a few new ones. I fantasized about having friends over for dinner and leading late-night singalongs from my Yamaha, playing the hits I knew from the Beatles, Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Coldplay, Billy Joel and Elton John.
This never came to pass. Not quite, anyway. One Saturday, my friend Brad and I had plans to drive up to the College World Series in Omaha. We were going to meet very early in the morning at the home of a mutual acquaintance I didn’t know very well. When I arrived at the house, the man and his wife invited me in, and we chatted while waiting for my friend to show up. I admired the upright piano they had in their living room.
“We just got it,” the man said. “Neither of us knows how to play, though.”
“Brad told me you play,” his wife said sweetly. “Would you play a song for us? We’d love to hear how our piano sounds.”
They looked at me, smiling expectantly. I nodded and slowly made my way to the piano bench. It was about 6 o’clock in the morning.
I played a few chords from “Piano Man,” which is one of the easiest tunes I know. I began singing, because the song sounds sparse without the familiar words that are drunkenly crooned in every American piano bar every single night of the week. The couple gamely sang along. I missed a few notes. It is hard to play a musical instrument and sing at the same time, especially in front of other people. After the second round of “La-da-da-da-da-da-daaa,” my friend showed up at the front door, and I was allowed to stop.
“That was really nice,” said the husband, whom I have come to know better over the passing years, but who has never asked me to play the piano again.
Today, our busy family life means I no longer have time to play the piano. The cherry Yamaha mostly gathers dust in our living room, except for the occasional moments when our six-year-old wants to bang a few notes on it. I have tried to teach him “Chopsticks,” but he doesn’t have the patience for it. I would love for him to take lessons someday, but I think he would rather play guitar, if anything.
I feel guilty not giving such a nice piano the attention it deserves. I haven’t gotten it tuned in a couple of years. Someday, when things are less busy (maybe retirement?), I tell myself that I will sit down, re-master the handful of songs that I know, and learn a few more. Then we’ll have that dinner party with friends, and everyone will gather around my piano to sing along to a string of 1970s hits.