Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bar Talk

I was sitting in a bar tonight (not a regular pastime, mind you) and discovered that the guy sitting next to me had the same piano teacher as me, back in the day. And that he was in the same summer piano class with my little sister. This teacher, a Mrs. W., was a family friend, and she gave lessons free-of-charge to my sister and me because we were fatherless. Mrs. W. Had Pity. She was also, for the most part, impatient, irritable, and probably would have made a good nun. Or a good "bad nun".

Anyway, I asked this man at the bar if he remembered the evil pair of black nail scissors with their fragments of nicked skin that Mrs. W. kept on the little shelf just above the black-and-whites, and his eyes lit up and he began to laugh, with what appeared to be fondness. Good god! He remembered Mrs. W. with fondness! He remembered her nail scissors with fondness!

I recall dread and fear prior to each lesson. I loved playing the piano, but my time with Mrs. W. was a trial, in spite of decent piano skills and keeping a religious practice schedule. My last year of lessons was less fraught than those earlier, and about halfway through that year, when I was seventeen, an extraordinary thing happened, which changed everything:

I'd been assigned one of Chopin's nocturnes, and after a week of practicing it, I came to my class and played it with the vigor of a piano player in a marching band. Strident! Upright! I didn't know that nocturne meant a piece appropriate to the night or evening. Horrified, Mrs. W. swooped (swooped!) her brittle-edged body from her chair and began to sway and teeter about the room in her best Isadora Duncan imitation.

"No no noooooo! This is a nocturne! It's meant to be played slowwwly, it's meant to flow like a streeeeeam! It's night-time, it's quiet, it's sennnnnsuous!" She spun once or twice.

My lower jaw dropped to the keyboard. Who was this sudden sylph, this impromptu ballerina, this ripple of fluttering flesh who'd replaced Mrs. W.? I seem to recall a chiffon scarf trailing from her fingers, but perhaps that's just forty years of embroidered memory adding its inevitable stitches. But scarf or no scarf, at that moment Mrs. W. crossed into another dimension. Where, moments before, I'd seen, for all intents and purposes, a wimpleless nun, I now saw a woman still in possession of passion and the spark of youth. And suddenly, we clicked. The years of tension were replaced with a mutual love of Chopin and the piano.

Well I'll be damned. Apparently, I, too, remember Mrs. W. with fondness, my memory edited after a chance conversation at a bar. But I will never -- NEVER -- reminisce fondly about those blasted nail scissors!


  1. and fragments of nicked skin?! Eww.

  2. I'm so glad my piano teacher (who sounds like the anti-Mrs. W) didn't have nail clippers!