When I was aged nine, I was given an old piano. It was so old that it still had the holes where the candelabra had been fixed. It was given to me by a man I knew as ‘Grandad’, but who was no relation, he was actually my dad’s friend’s father. His wife had died and so dad decided it would be a good idea to bring the piano home for me to play and to begin having lessons.
I was taught by an ‘uncle’ – again no relation whatsoever, another friend of my dad’s. Dad would take me for my piano lesson and sit with my ‘auntie’ in the other room until I’d finished.
In the intervening week, dad would often sit with me, insisting I did a full hour of piano practise each the evening. To be honest, I hated it! There was so little I was able to play in those early days, and so it was a very long hour indeed. We would never expect this of a young child today, but dad was determined the money spent on lessons would not be wasted.
This afternoon I sat down at my piano, as I frequently do and I chose to play music from a huge selection I’ve collected over the years. It is a hobby and a pleasure now, but it was also a key part of my everyday role as a teacher for 36 years and my role as Vicar over the past 11 years. Playing the piano has become second nature, part of who I am.
I don’t feel I have a particular gift or talent for playing. It took years of patience, practise and perseverance, firstly supervised by dad, and then through my own sheer will and determination to master it as a skill.
And isn’t it the same for anything we wish to master in life? We read and talk about ‘gifted’ people, but in the background of everyone who is successful in their achievements, is a story of untold grit and determination. Of course, I absolutely believe that we all have God given gifts and talents, but we are also given free will, so it is up to us whether we utilise and develop them, or choose to ignore them. Sadly, so many get lost along the way. How many times has somebody said to me, ‘Oh I started playing when I was younger, but then I gave up. I wish I hadn’t…’
Would I have continued without my dad’s insistent supervision in those early days? I’d like to think so, but realistically, I know that for a young child it would have been easy for me to give up and so I do feel that I owe him for that. And after over 40 years of playing as part of my work, the ‘gift’ of being able to just sit play is now totally for my own pleasure.
As I continue to reflect upon my dad’s life, following his recent death, and my complicated and often heartbreaking relationship with him, it is comforting to look back and feel truly thankful for the lifelong legacy of music he instigated