A Legend in My Own Mind


“Is music still music if no one hears it?”


This is the kind of philosophical question I’ve been asking myself since I retired and decided to follow through on all those things I said I would do if I had more time…like take piano lessons.


I’ve always talked about taking piano lessons which I’ve discovered is a lot easier than actually taking them. My motivation is this vision I have of myself at the piano at Christmas playing Handel’s Messiah so beautifully that people stand, clasp their hands to their breasts, look heavenward and shout “Haaaallleeeeluiah;” or of me being the life of the party hedonistically playing Good Golly Miss Molly for friends who laugh and dance as wildly as people with artificial knees and hips can dance; or of saving the day in church when the organist doesn’t show and I step in and play “How Great Thou Art” so magically that the congregation whispers that I should make it my theme song. Yes, this was the gift I was meant to develop in the autumn of my life and it was all going to start with “Adult” piano lessons at the community college.


It took me two years to sign up for these classes mainly because I was afraid that the “Adult” part might involve nudity. Turns out, taking “adult” lessons means that three people take lessons at once. We play on electronic pianos and use headphones so we only hear our own music.


Our teacher moves between us, plugs her earphones into our pianos, smiles and says, “Whenever you are ready.” My heart starts pounding so loud and fast that it threatens to throw off my counting, but somehow I get through it. I’ve been playing for two years now and have graduated from animal songs (The Happy Elephant) to people songs (The Jolly Pirate.) I was feeling pretty good about my progress and thought maybe it was time to share my gift and so one day I took off my head phones and stood up. Everyone stared.


“I’d like to play for you.”




“What?” my instructor says.


“I want to play so you can all hear me.”


A smile spread across my beleaguered teacher’s face. “Well, if you’re going to do this, let’s do it right. C’mon.”


We follow her into the next room—the home of her prized grand piano. My two lesson buddies sit on sofas while my teacher gestures for me to sit at the piano.


I sit down, hold my head high, and silently wish I’d graduated from playing people songs to playing songs people might actually recognize—until I began to play, softly and timidly at first and then with more confidence. Miraculously, I become the star at Christmas, the life of the party, and the savior…ah, I mean the humble helper at church all rolled into one. When it was over I think I finally understood why Liberace wore those sparkly jackets.


I’m gonna have to get me one.