I loved my piano, but I hated taking piano lessons at the Longy (soft g) School of Music in Cambridge. Generally I choose not to think about the lessons and the power struggle it engendered between me and my usually gentle mother.
But two weeks ago a Boston Globe headline evoked a torrent of memories.
“Music Community Split over Longy Decision to Cut Programs for Children, General Public.”
Now a degree-granting conservatory, associated with Bard College, the board decided to concentrate on the degree students and drop the programs offered to the public.
Because they always wanted the very best for me, my Aunt Dot and my mother, at great personal financial sacrifice, enrolled me at the Longy in 1944 when I was in first grade. I liked the Primary Class: the other kids, the musical games like “Sally Go Round the Moon,” and the simple songs in a book I can still picture: “Off We Go.”
But as the selections increased in difficulty, the school and I were a terrible fit. The Longy, even then, was designed to train serious musicians , ones who would someday perform in concert halls. All I wanted was a neighborhood teacher who would teach me to play”Country Gardens.” Instead, I was supposed to be learning classical pieces composed by Bach, ,Mozart, Schumann, and Dvorak.
The odd thing is that I was pretty good at sight-reading, but my performance rarely improved because I pretty much refused to practice. At times my mother would stand at the end of the piano bench, a piece of sash- cord held threateningly in her hand, trying to keep me at the piano, but she never used it on me although once I recall that she chased me around the house, swinging the cord. ( I jumped on my bed and wedged myself against the wall. )
The teachers, used to serious students and parents ambitious for their children, had little patience with me, and I remember one, in particular, who would sit cleaning his nails with a little penknife while barking corrections at me. I was obviously wasting his time, but no one bothered to point out I was wasting Dot and my mother’s money!
Another part of the music lesson torture was that we were required to take solfege lessons, filled with technical music instruction like key signatures and constructing funky scales whose name I can’t recall. Again, I could have cared less and learned little though I think I usually did the homework.
I did enjoy the music assemblies on Saturday mornings. I made some good friends and loved singing “The Raggle Taggle Gypsies” and “All in the Wood.” I also liked hearing guest artists perform, especially Mr. Bodky on the harpsichord. Star pupils would perform at these assemblies as well, but, understandably, I never did, nor did I aspire to do so.
How long did all this go on you ask? Well, I am embarrassed to admit that when, after five years, I was required to audition to enter the Advanced Class, I failed miserably: not once, but twice. Finally Dot and my mother accepted the fact that I was never going to be a pianist. Of course in later years I very much wished that I had practiced and learned to play well. But I still never wanted to play classical music.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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