When I was a kid my adoptive mother decided my sister and I needed to learn how to play the piano so we could grow up and play for church services. She lined us up with a ward member to take weekly lessons, bought the required beginner’s workbooks and announced we were expected to practice piano 45 minutes a day. She didn’t ask us if we wanted to play or if we had any ambition to be future piano players in Sacrament meeting.

With no choice but lots of threats of punishment, I begrudgingly began the most dreadful period of my young life. To say I hated piano puts it mildly. Not only was I not interested in playing, I resented the daily grind of piano practice that killed my afterschool tree-climbing schedule. As a seven year-old tomboy, my long-term goals consisted of vowing I would climb trees into my old age ( I had no concept of what puberty and breasts would do to my future center of gravity) and working on a world-class fort I was building out of scrap lumber in a wild blackberry patch.

I had no interest in going to church, let alone preparing to “build up the Kingdom” with my Godly piano playing.

It took a full year before I finally ground down my middle-aged, patient piano teacher and she admitted defeat to my mother. The teacher explained that it was a waste of money to keep paying for my lessons since I hadn’t progressed in my skills beyond the first workbook. My sister, on the other hand, showed real potential because she was a girly-girl who wanted to please. She had made it to the third workbook and the teacher recommended my mother put her energies into my sister.

Oh, Happy Day for me!!! I promptly picked up my old schedule and went back to finishing my after school household chores in lightening speed and then disappearing into the wilds of our neighborhood until well after dark. When my sister privately complained to me (she wasn’t dumb enough to say anything to our parents who were well-known for their strictness) I pointed out that she created her own mess by pretending to like piano. It took my sister another year and 1/2 to finally discourage the teacher enough that she too, was set free from the daily torture of music practice.

My mother tried one more time with me, signing me up for guitar lessons. It wasn’t with the hope of playing in church, since no guitar was ever played in our church. God only respected pianos, violins, flutes and other gentle instruments. Guitars belonged at camp, not church.

I didn’t mind learning the guitar too much. My teacher was an odd woman with such long fingernails that curled at the tips that I was fascinated she could pluck the strings, but she did. I think I hung in there with weekly guitar lessons for a year or so, faithfully forging my dad’s signature on the mandatory practice slips that swore under oath I was practicing daily, which of course, I never did. By the end of my guitar education I could fake play a pretty mean version of Elton Johns hit, ” Alligator Rock ” so that was something. What I really got good at was forgery. I can still, 43 years later and with my dad dead in the grave, write his signature so convincingly I am sure I could get a bank loan on it.

Every once in a while, someone in a church meeting uses the analogy of a child learning to play a musical instrument to illustrate a gospel concept, like you learn one musical principle at a time and build on that, just like a testimony or some such other thing. Recently a teacher asked if any of us hated to learn piano (because apparently it is required of all Mormon kids in childhood – I missed that memo) but now are grateful that we know how to play.

I couldn’t resist. I raised my hand and told the class I hated to play the piano as a child and didn’t to this day, ever regret getting out of as soon as possible. I am sorry to say that I ruined the teacher’s point, but really, someone has to tell the truth.
Music lessons are tedious, boring affairs that aren’t going to get any child closer to heaven unless that kid has a natural passion for the instrument. For those special souls, they are secure in the knowledge that they will always be called on to serve Heavenly Father behind the piano. Good for them.

If I had known that this kind of guitar playing was allowed in church, I might have hung in there a little bit longer with that. I’ve never been lucky enough to live in a church ward that allows guitars and fiddles. Just another reason to live in New York City someday.

Sabre Rattlers

The Sabre Rattlers playing “Nearer, My God, To Thee” in sacrament meeting March 10, 2013 in NY Morningside Heights Ward.