I can’t remember not being able to play the piano at home. Perhaps I was 5, maybe 4 or 6 but I sat at the piano for ages working out melodies and it never seemed difficult. I seemed to understand the intervals between the notes and I was beginning to use all my fingers sensibly. I used to play the piano on the table or on my bedclothes and hear the sounds in my head. There was no teacher involved and my parents loved listening to music but were not performers. Years later when full of morphine in hospital, I vividly recalled these early experiences as if being a child again. And I seemed to make the musical discoveries all over again but this time with my feet: As I moved my feet closer together or further apart from each other, I imagined the sounds. It gets worse! I was convinced I had invented something new and revolutionary for the music world before drifting back into slumber.
Chords and rhythm came soon but just three or for chords: C, F, G in the main so my playing must have been very monotonous. But when I got to school I was soon playing a hymn for the infant assembly. ‘Jesus loves me this I know; for the bible tells me so’. I don’t remember any nervousness at that stage And, of course I was soon receiving music lessons from a blind lady for nearly an hour each week. I used to fetch her from the staff room and take her to the music room which, in fact, was the Gym as well.
For a blind child, there are two ways forward with music: Braille music is well developed but very complicated and, although I struggled with it, it proved to be beyond me. Sad, because one needs musical score to take one to a high performance level. The other option is playing by ear which seemed good to me. She would play first the right hand and then the left hand of a piece and then put them together. She would play stuff over and over for me until I got it in my head and she guided my fingers to maximise my playing efficiency. And Those scales!!! Enough to put anyone off. But we were friends and I wanted to work hard for her. As I grew older,. I was given the opportunity to go to concerts in the Birmingham Town Hall on Thursday evenings and I was hooked on classical music, at least to listen to. But performing was a very different matter and I came to hate my own lack of ability and having to play simple silly tunes as I thought of them.
Once or twice when I was perhaps 11, I went over to her home on a Sunday afternoon and we sat together listening mostly to Mozart on her new fangled record player which mesmerised me with its sound quality. Oddly, though, it was the piano part that sounded the poorest. After music came the cakes but before we could eat, she had to inject herself being, as I later would learn, a poorly diabetic. On the last occasion, she hugged me and gave me a plastic ring and I felt emotional and uncertain. I kept her ring safe for a while but it worried me to have it so one day I let it drop amongst the trees and decided to keep her in my head with happy memories. It was the dawning of a realisation that even a talented blind person could be lonely, touch-hungry and unfulfilled, not to mention vulnerable .
Some how all this poisoned my love of learning music and, like many teenagers, I let it all go; wishing to bang out boogie-woogie rather than practise the serious music served up to me by another talented teacher in my senior school It is only now in my retirement that I am back at the piano for at least half an hour every day. I have a great friend who teaches me as I used to be taught and then records the phrases patiently for me to work at between lessons. I hope I am somehow repaying the music teachers at school for their fruitless efforts with me at the time. What a muddled mind I have but I love music.