It’s no secret that I love a song with a good piano section in it. If you were to get a dollar every time I said that on this blog, you’d likely be a rich fool by now. I hope it doesn’t get too repetitive when I write about it, but it probably does. The thing is, though, that can really make a song for me. I came across this cover of John Cale’s “Fear A Man’s Best Friend” by ANR (Awesome New Republic) today, and the piano melted my heart immediately.
I started to ask myself today why it is that I love piano in songs so much. Is it that the sound pleases my ears more than any other instrument? Perhaps. But I think it’s got more to do with the memories it brings up in my mind. I started taking piano lessons in Kindergarten with this incredibly kind old man named Louis Pizzolato. I’m not even sure if that’s how you spell his name because he was always referred to as Mr. P. He was a white-haired man, very old (never knew just how old, but appeared to be in his 80’s or 90’s), and he always had a bucket of candy in his office. To call it an office might be an extreme, because really it was a room next to the cafeteria at my school that could fit an old man, a piano, some candy, a couple shelves of music books, and a kid eager to learn. Nothing more than that. The lighting was always dim in that room, maybe because the window to the outside was about 6 inches by 6 inches, if I recall correctly. There were two other rooms just like this one, one on both sides, but I never knew much about those rooms. The most I ever heard was that those piano teachers rotated in and out a lot. They didn’t stick around for long. Mr. P, on the other hand, was there day in, day out, for years.
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I took piano lessons with Mr. P. from Kindergarten through 8th grade. He taught me all I knew, starting with learning the keys on the keyboard. I still remember learning where the D key was, because it was the white key that looked like a white dog living in a black doghouse (created by the C sharp and E flat keys). As the years went on and I got a little better, he let me pick songs that I wanted to learn, so I brought in songs that I would hear on the radio and found the sheet music for in the local music store. I’m pretty sure he had no idea what the songs sounded like, because I know for sure that he didn’t listen to Top 40 radio like I did. He preferred classical music, Bach and Beethoven, mostly. He was a quiet old man; very peaceful. Top 40 wasn’t for him.
When he wasn’t teaching piano lessons, Mr. P. was in charge of delivering mail across the entire campus. The school was pretty big–it taught Kindergarten through 12th grade–but Mr. P could be seen every day walking across the campus and through the tunnels with a canvas bag decorated with musical notes and stuffed with mail hanging on his shoulder. He would tell me somedays that people weren’t very appreciative of those duties. Sometimes people would get frustrated with him because it took him a while to make it from one side of the campus to the other, and they wanted their mail delivered faster. He told me he tried his best to get it there faster, but that it was tiring on his legs and his back. He didn’t want to give up the job, though, because he loved seeing all the bright, smiling faces running around the campus. He didn’t get to see much of those from within his small, dark office.
Mr. P. was a man to smile, himself. One thing I remember clearly is that when he smiled, he showed that he didn’t have many teeth left. I don’t know if it was because he had so much candy in his office, or maybe it was something that came with old age; it’s hard to say, but it didn’t stop Mr. P from smiling. He seemed genuinely happy to be where he was. His life was pretty simple, really. Teaching piano, delivering mail, and going home at the end of the day to prepare for the next day of lessons. At the end of each lesson, Mr. P. would pull out a tape recorder and make a note to himself of what he needed to do. It usually said something like “Lydia Simmons, October 28th, learned Concerta in C. Would like to learn Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Bring in music. Remember to teach crossovers and pedal transitions.” I imagine he would get home and listen to his recordings and set aside the music to put in his canvas bag for the next day of work. I never knew how he had so much music.
I got picked up from school one day after a piano lesson and was getting in the car when I noticed that Mr. P. was walking behind me. He had locked up his office, but wasn’t heading toward his car in the parking lot like he usually would. Instead he seemed to be heading toward the street. I asked him if he was going home, and he told me that he would be walking home today because something had happened to his car. I don’t remember the details today, but I do remember offering him a seat in my mom’s car so that we could drive him home. Surprisingly enough, he accepted the offer. When he got in the car, he was very thankful for our ride. He said it wasn’t a far walk, but his back and legs weren’t in great shape at his age, so getting a ride was a big relief.
We dropped Mr. P. off at his home. Like his office, it was very small. He lived in an apartment complex nearby the school, and it appeared that each of the units were very small and simple. I didn’t see the inside, but I imagine that he had shelves upon shelves of piano books in there. He wasn’t married, he didn’t have a family. Teaching piano and delivering mail was his life.
While it seemed at times that Mr. P. was a bit lonely, and that he was hurt by the disappointment in his mail delivery time, for the most part, he was a very happy old man. It was clear that he loved his job. I never got very good at piano, and I wasn’t the type who was inspired to go home and practice for an hour or so every day, but I continued taking lessons from him year after year because I enjoyed his company, and I think I enjoyed keeping him company. I think what drew me to his company was that I was realizing how much passion can play into one’s happiness. With no family and few friends, Mr. P. managed to love life because of his passion for one thing: piano. Whether it was his love of playing piano, listening to classical piano, or teaching the art of playing piano to others, it was the centerpiece in his life.
Today, when I hear piano sections in songs and feel my heart melting, I wonder if it’s because it was one of the first things that I learned to associate with passion. I think that Mr. P. is to thank for my special connection with piano sections in music, something that I am very passionate about. The take-away, in my mind, is that each of us should strive to have something in our lives that we are incredibly passionate about. Because when you strip away the material things, you’re left with things that can’t be seen, and that’s when it’s most important to have something that you’re passionate about. For me, it’s music, and in particular piano sections in music. That’s what I’m passionate about. That’s what makes me smile.
Mr. P. passed away shortly after I switched schools for high school. But when I hear piano music, I can still imagine that passionate smile.
Some songs that make me melt with their piano sections:
MP3: “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” – Jens Lekman