Merry Christmas

24 12 2010

A young man exploring the piano in my living room this morning has taken me back to a memory of the hall in the village where I grew up. The young man in question takes no lessons and will probably not be a pianist, but he has a knack for making the piano sound okay. He knows little about music but his sense of rhythm is okay. His count and measure are quirky though. And he is loud.

I was about to ask him to quiet down a bit when the aforementioned memory came flooding in. I’d like to share it with you.

When I was a child around this time of year there were always plans for a Christmas concert. It took place in what we called “The Hall”, an old church whose congregation had amalgamated with another. The building had fallen into the hands of the community and had been reincarnated as a place of meeting where cards were played and institutes and organizations held court or welcomed the village to meals or programs of entertainment.

The Christmas Concert was one of these celebrations. Often my mother was involved in its organization and I was charged with the task of going to the hall to turn on the heat for rehearsals or for the big night. I was always willing.

I would unlock the door with the key I had been given and charged not to lose. Inside the front door was a vestibule and the furnace switch was right there. I’d slip up the steps, through the doors into the main room and set the thermostat to 65.

And then I’d make my way to the front of the hall. Just below the stage was a piano, an old upright with a sweet clear sound. It had a round seat with claw and marble feet, and it was a friend of mine.

Here in the hall, all alone and full of the confidence of a child with no one watching, I would play.

I was no piano player any where else, but here in the hall, I was a virtuoso. I played as if possessed. I heard applause, ooohs and aaahs, hushed silences at particularly moving passages of my production. I was free.

Every other piano in the world came accompanied by people with fingers placed against lips to shush me, folks telling me “quietly please” or asking me to leave the piano for a while – “maybe you could do that later …”

But the piano in the hall was my Christmas gift from the world. I would play ‘til my fingers were numb. I would play my own music. I would make up melodies and add chords and bass notes. I would sing loud and long, making up my own lyrics to the tunes I’d created. I would thrill at the freedom. My heart would swell and my soul would fly.

Today I’m not going to say anything about my ADHD. You can probably see for yourself how it played a large part in my life back then, just as it does now.

Today, I’d just like to tell you that the gift of the piano was one that has lasted throughout my life. I’m still not a pianist, but I learned a beautiful lesson in that hall. I learned to seize life at every opportunity. I don’t heed that lesson often enough, but the times that I do are worth it.

Every now and then I’m that little boy, sitting on that cranked up seat, unable to reach the piano’s peddles. I’m playing that piano in my heart, loud and fast, and it sounds beautiful. … and so does the young man playing my piano right now. I can’t shush him. I can only listen – and invite you to listen too. Merry Christmas. ~ Taylor McKinlay

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