Today is Thursday, March 1st. For many it is the first day of a new month but for me, March 1st has great significance. It was on Thursday, March 1, 1990 that I officially began my piano studies. My first piano teacher was Donna DeAngelis, who also taught my eldest sister piano.
Most parents want for their children to learn the piano and in many cases, it is against their children’s wishes. I can recall many stories of individuals telling me that they took piano lessons because their parents wanted them to learn, and they never practiced. It was the complete opposite with me. I had to really prove that I was interested and that I would stick with it for at least a couple years.
My interest in piano lessons began to grow when an “incident” occurred at a childhood friend’s house. I was about seven years old, and my friend showed me a small electronic keyboard that had a series of buttons at the top. She pushed one button and soon I heard a simple melody with a drum accompaniment. I listened to it a couple times. Then she pushed another button, which produced the drum accompaniment alone. My fingers immediately jumped to the keyboard, and I began playing the song exactly how I remembered it. My childhood friend immediately jumped up and ran into the kitchen where her mother was. I followed to see what the excitement was all about. “Mom! Mom!” she cried “She can play it!” I was shocked by her enthusiastic response. I had no idea what the big deal was. Wasn’t that how everyone learned music? My friend’s mother told me that I should take piano lessons.
Prior to my piano studies, I had mimicked the melodies I heard on the radio or television. I was like a little parrot mimicking speech (no wonder I live with parrots now!). I would fumble around the keyboard and strike notes until I could get them to sound like a melody I had heard earlier. I did not even know the names of notes I played, but I could hear the difference between each one. Each one had a special color and it were the colors that helped me play by ear.
I can still remember my first piano lesson. I was eight years old, and the first thing I learned was all the names of the notes. I could remember my teacher introducing me to them. That’s when I learned that the pink note was C, the green note was D, the blue note was E, etc. In a matter of minutes I could find and name them all (including sharps and flats). Within a couple months I learned two things about myself:
- I had hearing loss and needing to wear hearing aids.
- I had absolute pitch or the ability to correctly name musical notes that I would hear on piano.
It seemed like a paradox to be a hearing impaired musician who had absolute pitch. Was that even possible? I didn’t know, and to be frank, I didn’t care. Sure, I was struggling to hear my classmates in school, and was afraid to answer the telephone (I had trouble hearing the person at the other end). However, I had a very good musical ear according to my piano teacher. I honestly thought the hearing loss was simply temporary and would cure itself on its own.
It took me a while to accept my hearing loss for what it was but eventually I did accept it when I was 12 years old. Not only did I accept it, I never allowed it to prevent me from continuing my musical studies. In May 2004, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music at Manhattanville College where I concentrated in piano performance, and in May 2008, I completed a Master of Music at Purchase College where I concentrated in composition.
Now, I am currently studying the organ.
If you had told me when I was eight years old that I was going to study piano for the next 20 years, earn two music degrees and then start studying the organ in my 30’s, I would look at you like you were nuts. It is amazing where that first piano lesson took me, and it’s amazing how your life can change with some encouragement. The world becomes a better place when someone gives you a chance. My first piano teacher actually believed I could succeed. Not everyone is lucky to have such support.
March 1, 1990 is more than just a date. It marked the beginning of a wild and crazy musical adventure.