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.