My Baldwin

I sit down with Noah once a week at our keyboard and let him explore the piano keys. The Korg was a gift from my husband Davy when I first moved here, and he bought it for me because he thought it would help with any homesickness I felt. I have to admit I didn’t suffer much homesickness, and fast-forward to present-day…

Noah doesn’t sound half-bad banging out his little tunes. I’m relieved he isn’t trying to lick the keys anymore like he did six months ago. I’m happy he’s able to sit on the bench alone although I’ll miss him sitting in my lap at the piano, like he did the same six months ago.

For now, I let him play just to play once a week. He’s just shy of a year-and-a-half and needn’t rush to anything besides his next awaiting snack. Eating is probably his favorite thing to do in his world.



Part of me wants Noah to learn to play the piano when he’s older, but I want it to be his decision ultimately. When I first started piano lessons, at 7 years old, it wasn’t my decision. Well, not exactly…

It was 1982 and when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas I announced, “A real piano!”

I didn’t know how much a piano cost in 1982, in 1982, or how hard it was to learn to play one. I’d only touched the keys of one once or twice at church, and children couldn’t touch church instrument without permission first. I hated all things permission.

When I declared my Christmas wish of a piano my parents were thrilled. Piano-playing Korean girls were good girls, and all they ever wanted was for me to be a good girl right? So my parents obliged, almost overnight, and I had a brand-new piano sitting in the living room of our small 2-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side. It took up a lot of space, especially because my brother was just taking his first steps all over the place.

I didn’t care. I had my very own piano. A Baldwin upright, but I just called it my brown piano. My mother now uses it more as shelving for photo displays.




The thing is my parents never should have bought me a piano in the first place, as if it was totally normal to indulge a seven-year-old with a gift worth thousands of dollars, on a whim.

When I first got my piano I treated it like any other toy. I ignored it and then tinkered with the keys some. I jumped on and off the piano bench like I was doing gymnastics. Then my parents told me my piano lessons were starting the next day, and they’d found me a “very nice very good Korean woman piano teacher”.

I’d said no right away. “No. No teacher. I just want the piano!”

I didn’t want a teacher in my house I’d told them. Teachers belonged in schools. I was so upset.

My piano teacher it turned out, Ms. Han, was the tallest skinniest Korean woman I’d ever seen in my life. Then, and now still. I remember asking her if she was really Korean and then getting in trouble for it. First impression.

I loved Ms. Han’s hair. She always kept it down, and she’d push some behind her ears every once in a while. My mother would say to me after Ms. Han left that she wished Ms. Han would pin her hair back during our lessons, for all ten years I received lessons. I didn’t care what my mother said and I wished for my own hair to grow shiny and long and silky like Ms. Han’s. I remember how good she smelled and how I’d asked her what shampoo she used and begged my mother to switch to Prell, so I could smell like Ms. Han.

Looking back on my lessons I remember most how professional and stern Ms. Han was, and how I slightly feared her and her bony face. She was never harsh but always a teacher and never a friend, that was always clear. Ms. Han trained me for my first real performance when I was eleven and it was for my brother’s kindergarten graduation of all things. She trained me for graduations and weddings, and I played piano at church for years, just like my parents always wanted. A piano-playing good girl who practiced every single day twice a day for ten years. The piano was my Christmas gift, but turned out more of an obligation and I didn’t enjoy it like I knew other pianists did.

Nowadays all piano obligations are gone and I play freely with or without Noah, and I’m grateful to my parents and Ms. Han for this. I sometimes miss my Baldwin, but I got her tuned up before I moved to Belgium. I’ll get her tuned up again on my next visit to New York.

Always dishing,



  1. Sparky

    I always wanted a piano but my family couldn’t afford one or lessons for that matter. When my parents divorced when I was 12 my mother and I moved into a furnished duplex. Lo and behold there was a piano and a bench full of music and a chart of where middle c was. I spent all one summer teaching myself to play. At the end of the summer I could play one song all the way through with both hands. It was Sweet Hour of Prayer. I spent a long time thumbing through the Baptist Hymnal that was in the piano bench until I found the only song in there with no sharps or flats. Sadly we moved and that was the end of my piano. I don’t think I could play anymore but I loved that summer of my borrowed piano.

    1. Jmantyger

      MizJones! Here I was on a Saturday morning having fun until you made me think about what I was doing in 1982-working on my Masters Degree at Auburn! When did I become an old fart? Dang. 😉

    2. GaYToR

      I want to thank you Michelle Jones for putting this all into perspective. I had been out of high school for 9 years and was well into my 2nd year with Danny. But we love Jun and love her more when she unintentionally puts us in our place. She has a knack for making us feel ancient when we least expect it. And we come back daily to see how she manages to do it several times a week.

      I don’t think she does it on purpose. I’m absolutely positive she does and I can hear her villianously laughing about it all the way from Gent in that I’ve been a naughty girl smirk that she has perfected. 😉

  2. Oh..i always wanted a piano too….but there was one at my aunt’s!!! Like you, i hated all things permission…and i would go there and pretend i could play,,,,and get yelled at to stop….every..single…time….Sooo, what did my mom do…..she bought us a table top organ……yea….yay….
    Not quite a piano……but….i taught myself how to play one song…and i think i still remember it!!! lol

  3. Jmantyger

    A good writer, like a good photographer, can find something intriguing in just about any scene. They grab my attention-getting me to see things I would not have thought of. Great blog! Thanks for a sharing your memories-past and present.

  4. What a good-looking piano!

    My parents purchased a used piano because they couldn’t afford a new one. Even a used one and piano lessons was a sacrifice my parents made for usI

    I can’t even remember the brand name of the piano, but it had beautiful sound. My Mom gave it a horrible finish – I think she said she gave it an “antiquing” – a finish that was popular, at the time, where you give the piece a whitewashing, then streak a stain over it to mimic wood grain. Boy was it ever ugly! lol

    I took piano lessons, but didn’t deserve them because I didn’t apply myself or appreciate them. I took it as ‘a gotta do it because they say i havta do it’ kinda thing.

    To overcome the obstacles I placed on my piano-playing, my (first) piano teacher claimed I had talent, to keep my parents interested, and it worked because my parents wouldn’t let me quit because of my supposed “talent.” Sad, but true – lol! Trust me, I couldn’t play for long without an obvious blunder, so this was truly hype.

    My younger sister took a tumble, cutting an arm with glass, damaging a major nerve. My parents forced my sister to use her hands, to hopefully give her more use of her arm. Her neurosurgeon said that my sister’s recovery could only me described as a miracle from God due to the determination and hard work of my parents and grandmother.

    Not only did my parents take turns keeping my sister’s injured hand moving 24 hours per day, they also got my sister involved in any activity that would make use of her hands, so they enrolled her in piano lessons.

    Unfortunately, we changed teachers to a nasty-tempered, passive-aggressive preacher’s wife who HATED, my frivolous, happy-natured, hyperactive sister! What a nasty individual that woman was!

    She said she would NOT teach my sister unless I came to lessons with her, so I had no choice but to attend both our lessons. (I was the older sister who curbed her enthusiasm about life, a bit. lol) To endure this horribly impatient woman screaming at the top of her lungs and rapping my sister on the knuckles with a ruler, I snaked an earphone wire up my sleeve that was connected to a transistor radio.

    Don’t EVER think your kids are exaggerating when they tell you that an adult is showing hatred toward a child, because we experienced this first hand. This woman was not cruel toward me, but she was with my sister.

    Wow, Jun, thanks for your story and a walk down memory lane…

  5. I was always interested in piano lessons, but the rule at our house was that if a hobby cost my parents money, we had to stick with it to the end. Then I decided that my parents couldn’t afford it (more like I didn’t want to commit), and never mentioned it again. At the age of 25 I found a piano teacher and took lessons for several months. I was in heaven!! My landlords moved their piano onto my screened porch, and I practiced “The Birch Canoe” to my heart’s content, and while learning “Church Bells Ring”, got the shock of my life. My teacher said I’d be playing in the recital in 2 months. I asked what her other students’ average age was, and she said ‘about nine.’ I told her in no uncertain terms that a 25-year-old woman WAS NOT going to put on patent leather shoes and a crinoline skirt and play in a recital! She told me I was no longer her student, and I walked away in tears. Now, some 32 years later, I just left voicemail for a lady asking for piano lessons….I’m getting excited just thinking about it!

  6. kcsmum

    My beloved grandpa started piano lessons at age 4 and played every single day until the day he died at age 92. He & I spent hours at the piano, him playing & singing and me fiddling with the keys & singing along. I loved him so much. When he retired from his mailman job my uncles bought him a shiny new Baldwin!! It looked just like yours except deeper in color – a mahogany tone. When Grandpa died he left his piano to me. I was thrilled. Although I didn’t play, I immediately asked my brother if I could keep the piano at his house. His son, my nephew and Godson was 5 and had been begging for a piano. He said of course & Danny started his lessons the next day. A picture of Grandpa & I at the piano sat on top watching over our Danny. Fast forward 20 years – my Danny now has a Masters Degree in music and teaches at three universities. He loves piano but guitar is his passion. I hope Noah sticks with piano. As Dan learned when he was in high school, “playing the piano is a great chick magnet!”

  7. I love music and always wanted to sing and play music and dance. There were no instruments allowed in the house. not even a mouth organ. If we wanted music we listened to whatever music my parents wanted on. Ice Skating music, or Frank Sinatra or sh*t kickin country. In school I was in choir and i sang at church. then i had a really bad tonsil/throat infection and it killed my ear drums and vocal chords and I cant hear myself and tone deaf. I fell in love with radio and records and rock and roll instead of making music. So now I love my Robs and other singers instead. I have been accused of being totally deaf for liking Nickelback.

  8. Josh

    I can totally relate to your mother using the piano as shelving. My mother does that too on my piano at home! >.< Must be an Asian thing, me thinks.


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