WOSTER: Wishing I had practiced more piano

I see in the news they tore down the old City Hall in Chamberlain -- way, way too late to answer my prayers when piano recitals were a day away and I hadn't, you know, put in the time on the keyboard.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

I see in the news they tore down the old City Hall in Chamberlain -- way, way too late to answer my prayers when piano recitals were a day away and I hadn't, you know, put in the time on the keyboard.

Yeah, that was one of my unanswered prayers as a kid, to have the City Hall be demolished in some crazy construction project just before the doors opened and the moms and dads and grandparents started filing in for the annual recital. I took piano from Miss Willrodt for four years, and I think I prayed about this every year.

In fact, I sometimes gave God a break, and didn't pray for the whole building to be torn apart. If He didn't have the time or energy for that, all it would take (I prayed in the way of grade-school boys everywhere, I suppose) would be a collapse of the stage, maybe with the piano falling through to the basement or something. Nobody needed to be hurt; no plague of locusts has to swarm through the building. All I really needed was something to stop the recital from coming -- just long enough for me to devote all my after-school hours to learning my recital piece. And, if I had just this one small prayer answered, I swore I'd learn that piece, too, letter perfect, forward and backward, double time, waltz time, march time, whatever the Big Guy wanted.

"Just, please, don't let the recital happen tomorrow afternoon, that's all I'm asking."

But, as somebody's song says, maybe it was Garth Brooks, "Just because He doesn't answer, doesn't mean He doesn't care. Sometimes God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers." If so, I got my answer, year after year. It just wasn't the answer I was seeking. It certainly wasn't the answer that would allow me to escape the humiliation each recital of fumbling through three or so minutes of what in another's hands on the keys might have been music.


If I were to tell the bottom-line truth today, I'd admit that I dearly wish I had kept on taking piano lessons. I wish I had practiced every day, learned to run my fingers up and down the keyboard the way my mom did so effortlessly, drawing ragtime and Irish ballads and big-band standards, boogie-woogie and old-time rock 'n' roll from the instrument. The story goes that she climbed onto a piano bench when she was not more than 3 or 4 years old and starting belting out the tunes.

That always seemed unfair to me as a kid. Here I was taking lessons -- painful, painful piano lessons -- week after week after week after school, when my mom could play anything by ear. She did teach herself to read some music, but she was one of those rare individuals of whom it could truthfully be said, "Yup, she can read music a little, all right, but it don't hurt her playing none."

Me, I got so I could read a little music, but not enough to help my playing. I sure didn't inherit my mom's ear for piano. I had to work for every bit of piano ability I possessed, and I'm afraid I didn't work very hard.

That being the case, each spring, I'd arrive at a point a day or two before recital and realize, again, that there wasn't enough time left to learn my piece of music. Now, Miss Willrodt was a fine piano teacher, and each year for several weeks before the recital, she warned me that the day would approach and I'd be unprepared. Why do you suppose a 9- or 10-year-old boy always thinks there's not enough time after school to play but plenty of time left to practice the recital piece? If I had a ready answer to that one, I'd be retired and living on an island somewhere.

Instead, I'm just up the river from Chamberlain, wishing I could play the piano, wishing I hadn't quit lessons after sixth grade and wishing I'd listened to my mom when she told me I'd wish all those things.

Even so, when I saw the news photo of the City Hall demolition, for just a moment I thought, "Well, some unprepared piano student's prayers were answered."

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