January, one of the rainiest, darkest months of winter, has never felt like the start of a new year to me. September, on the other hand, has meant beginnings since Kindergarten. Today really does feel like the end of summer. I’ve spent the past two weeks visiting with my sisters. My younger sister lives up in Atlin, BC, the northernmost town in the province, about a two-hour drive from Whitehorse. I brought my piano-tuning gear with me on the off-chance that she might happen to acquire a piano. No such luck (I wasn’t holding my breath). One of the first things I did when I returned to the Sunshine Coast after ten days was play my piano. I was surprised by just how much I missed that sound!
I started taking piano lessons when I was eight, probably in September. My first lessons focused on playing by ear, imitating my teacher who would arrange songs of my choice (my choices at the time included the theme from The Pink Panther). He also encouraged me to write my own music, which I did -- very simple little pieces about sixteen measures long and often played with the “flute” sound on my electric keyboard (which had no weighted keys). My next teacher followed the Royal Conservatory curriculum, and I studied with her through most of high school (when I also began classical voice lessons).
As an adult, I returned to piano lessons, studying with a fantastic teacher through the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Patrick Godfrey, a versatile pianist and composer, was an incredibly generous teacher who would often lose track of time and my hour-long lessons would turn into two-hour jams. I would bring a song I was writing or working on, and we would workshop it. He would show me new techniques to make the arrangement more interesting.
But this year, I became bored with my usual tricks. It was definitely time to learn something new. I have taken two jazz piano lessons so far with Anna Lumiere. The theory is dense and fleshing out the chords requires some analysis of interval relationships. When I practise, I spend some time just slowly constructing these chords and sequences in different keys; I practise scales in new modes; practise these scales over the chords, just getting used to the sound and seeing the relationships in new ways. But after that kind of intellectual work, I just play -- improvise, mess around, make mistakes, stumble onto something that sounds terrible and sometimes something that sounds beautiful. There’s a whole new world of sound to explore!
I’m guessing some of you are returning to piano lessons this fall, perhaps after a summer away, or maybe it’s been decades. Or maybe you’re considering piano lessons, but a little voice inside is stopping you? You’re too old, it says, or It's been too long. You haven’t even touched the piano in years — what makes you think you should take lessons?
To those first two — it is always a good time to learn something new, isn't it? And with all the accessible information on neuroplasticity, music is sounding more like good medicine than ever before. To that last one, even I found myself uninspired to play. We all need teachers at different times in our lives. Sometimes we find them, and sometimes they find us. There are many fantastic piano teachers here on the Sunshine Coast. You can find a list of them here on my website. And what better time to start than September, the unofficial start of the new year (official if you are Jewish — Shenah Tovah!).
Obligatory sales pitch: Also, if you haven’t even touched the piano in years, perhaps it needs to be tuned?
I asked Ken Dalgleish to recommend some jazz pianists. He directed me to Robert Glasper. So here is some jazz piano like you may have never heard before. Enjoy!