I distinctly remember the summer when I was 8 years old, less than a year since I had started learning the piano. I was ready to give up.
None of the simplistic starter songs or finger exercises interested me. Back then, I had to really love something to play it. I had no respect for the classics. Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms brought me no joy. When it was time to practice, I would bang out half-hearted notes until I put my head down, ready to give up.
Fortunately, I had a teacher who recognized my frustration. Instead of making the practice book mandatory, we instead played songs that appealed to me, like themes from the soundtracks to the Harry Potter or Star Wars movies. I loved to play these scores because I instantly felt transported into the films.
I’d be sitting at the piano keying out the opening notes to “Hedwig’s Theme,” the opening song to all Harry Potter movies, and then suddenly I would be zooming through the air on a broomstick, slinging spells and fighting off the evil wizards called Death Eaters. From then on, in addition to working through the J.W. Schaum practice books and learning a classical repertoire from composers like Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, I would choose a tune or two that I wanted to learn.
Fast forward a couple of years, I was now in the 8th grade. Playing piano was no longer just about practice, I began picking up songs because I knew had the talent. I learned of a performing arts charter high school a few towns over. I jumped at the chance to attend — a chance to spend half of my school day playing music, who could say no? I decided to audition for 2010-2011 school year, selecting two contrasting pieces to play — a dainty Wolfgang Mozart sonata and a Scott Joplin ragtime tune.
One month later, I received my acceptance letter. We had academic classes for half of the day, and during the other half, we practiced our craft through classes, seminars and ensembles. It was a bit like the movie “Fame,” the 1980s musical about teenagers at a similar school in New York.
Opportunities to get together and play were endless. In fact, it was frowned upon if you didn’t perform. As a music major, I performed at school events like jazz and classical concerts, as well as piano recitals. I loved rehearsing with other music majors. Some of my favorite memories are performances I had at venues like the SteelStacks and ArtsQuest Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as well as at Musikfest, the city’s annual free music festival.
Through those experiences, I learned the joy of creating music with other people, whether it be with bandmates practicing for a show, with school children I was working with at summer camp or with my girlfriend when we performed together for elderly people at retirement homes.
Most importantly, however, piano became an experience that took on an individualistic role for me. The instrument allowed me an outlet to express my creativity. It became how I passed the time and how I expressed my feelings. If I was having a bad day, I knew I could go home and improvise. I knew that I was confident in my abilities to be able to express myself through notes on the keyboard.
Now that I’m a college student, I don’t get to play as often. When I was at community college for two years, I barely touched a piano. Even here at Temple, I don’t always have time to dash off to the Boyer College of Music and Dance, grab a practice room and play.
But whenever I’m home or visiting my girlfriend, I look forward to sitting down at the piano, feeling the cool touch of ivory under my fingertips and instantly remembering notes like they were programmed into my mind. Anytime I play, it’s like that feeling never left.
Zach Kocis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.