Tiddle-pom, tiddle-pompom, tiddle-plunk
Piano playing, I should probably have noticed somewhat sooner, was not my forte. It took years for me to realize this inescapable fact. Of course at school we all did things, year after year, that were not exactly our cup of cocoa. But most of these were perforce: We had to play cricket. We had to do arithmetic, Latin, geography, and woodwork. We had to do gym. We even had to do art. Come to think of it, most of the things we did, we had to do. Choice was not a much-valued commodity in my education.Skip to next paragraph
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But when it came to playing an instrument, the choice was mine. Why music was a matter of individual decision, I don't know. I was keen about the piano from an early age, and I stuck with it from about age 8 to 18.
At home we had a grand piano in the drawing room that had once been played by the marvelous and popular Australian-born classical pianist Eileen Joyce. My older brother recalls, still with infantile grumpiness, having to be absolutely silent around the house while she played. She played, but he couldn't. He never took up piano for some reason. But I didn't have his disincentive. I would tinkle away hesitantly and inaccurately on the keys, "practicing." If pianos had memories, ours would have been blushingly ashamed at the depths to which it had fallen.
My repertoire consisted of a book full of rather charming Clementi pieces, ideal for novices; an elementary Mozart Minuet in G; Beethoven's teeniest sonatina; "Wonderful, Wonderful, Copenhagen" (I was a Danny Kaye fan); and some lush little piece by a forgotten, possibly Scandinavian composer full of finger-stretching arpeggios. One of my favorites was Delibes' Mazurka from "Coppelia" - tiddle POM, tiddle POM, tiddle pompompomPOM. I liked the way it swung along and reminded me of peasants dancing with peasant gusto. But the rhythm I wanted was disrupted by fingers hitting wrong notes or not being nimble enough. I played my whole repertoire atrociously. But I also did it with a kind of undying optimism.
By mutual understanding between the pianist and the other members of the household, the drawing-room door was kept firmly shut in the unconvincing belief that it might offer a modicum of soundproofing.
My brother had been wiser than I was. He knew he would never be a musician and confined his prodigious musical talents to an extended version of "Chopsticks" that included a swift rocking of four knuckles across the keys. But I fostered dreams of pianistic glory. Here was something that was pure magic, and I wanted to perform pure magic.
I had started by deciding to be a composer. This did not last for more than about an hour. I composed a tune on our piano. I played it to one of my older brothers. He listened and said, "I believe I may have heard that tune somewhere before." This was not only utterly crushing, putting a stop to that particular ambition forever, it also truly puzzled me.