Never too late to learn

When her grandsons signed up for piano lessons, she longed to learn herself.

John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor/FILE
Keyboard: Learning how to play the piano provides a basic foundation for musical knowledge and skill that can be enjoyed and shared at any age.

I hate to admit it, but one late summer day about five years ago, I found myself feeling envious of my two grandsons. My daughter and I were enrolling them in a music program, and the program director had just told us that they'd be taught not only to read music, but they'd also learn how to improvise at the keyboard.

Suddenly, a memory surfaced of myself at 6 years old, blissfully creating "concertos" on my mother's piano. Along with it, however, came the deflating recollection of being told to "stop that banging" after I'd started learning "real pieces."

Those pieces, on two or three notes, were not much fun to play when I had that whole luscious palette of a keyboard stretched out in front of me. But, obediently, I left my "concertos" behind.

Eventually I became fairly proficient at sight reading and developed a passable repertoire of piano pieces. But I could play them only with the help of sheet music or memorization.

How I envied the freedom my cousin, my sister-in-law, and other friends expressed at the keyboard! In their hands, chords were molded into any song they might wish to play at the moment. Their ability seemed to me as exhilarating as flying.

So when the program director finished her introduction, I couldn't resist asking her whether, if I'd been permitted to continue playing my "concertos," I might have gained the ability to improvise at the keyboard. When she answered "yes," I swallowed hard and asked a tougher question: "Is it too late?"

Her response was immediate: "It's never too late."

So now, as a grandmother, I've become a piano student once again, this time on a quest to develop a skill that, as a child, I might have acquired instinctively.

It may seem like a relatively laborious way to reach that goal, but I'm convinced it's actually been a blessing in disguise, leading to some unexpected discoveries that I might have missed as a youngster. Now, my slow but steady progress has shown me how pursuing a goal can be deeply satisfying. And sharing my newly acquired skills in a few friendly living rooms has made me secure in the knowledge that a performance doesn't have to be perfect to give other people pleasure. After performing in my first piano recital, I realized that kids are actually relieved to know that we grown-ups occasionally make mistakes, too!

As much as I enjoy wrapping my fingers around rich, jazzy chord extensions, I'm now inclined to think that, in the final analysis, the greatest reward of pursuing my goal has been those unexpected discoveries.

Especially the first: It's never too late.

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