Archive for December, 2015

Christmas 1973


Christmas Eve 1973

I was six years old and had recently started school. It was de rigueur in the primary schools of the time for pupils to take up the recorder, and it was there that I first learned to read music. I looked admiringly to my recorder teacher, Mrs Kibblewhite, and discovered that she also played and taught the piano; thus the idea first took hold in the brain of little Dragon.

At lunchtime on Christmas Eve, my grandmother arrived to spend the big day with our family. After she was settled with a cup of tea (served in her own bone china cup and saucer as she refused to drink out of our mugs), Nana questioned me as to what Santa was bringing.

‘I know what I’m getting,’ I said confidently.
‘Do you, darling? And what is Santa bringing you?’
‘A piano.’

My parents, listening nearby, were taken aback by this. They hadn’t got me a piano! However; I was so sure, and so adamant, that they felt that they couldn’t disappoint me. So (unbeknownst to me) my father ran up to the High Street, went to the local toy shop, and found a small plastic piano, about 6 inches high, which had something like a xylophone inside it so that when you hit a note, a tinny bell-sound resulted. It had a range of one octave, and the black keys were painted on.

Come Christmas morning, the rest of the world might as well not have existed – only my piano. Mum used a felt tip to mark numbers on the keys, and wrote out a few notated tunes for me (Rudolph and the baby Jesus featured strongly, I recall). I was delighted and instantly absorbed.

Back at school after the holidays I told Mrs Kibblewhite that I now had a piano, and wanted to start lessons as soon as possible. I think I must have been quite insistent, as a few weeks later Mrs K and my mum had a chat at the school gate, with Mrs Kibblewhite saying ‘I think she might be serious about this’.

A few weeks after that, it came home – a big old fashioned upright that looked like it had either been in the Wild West or a pub. It was hopelessly out of tune, and stayed that way for the rest of its days; nevertheless, I managed to pass 4 music grades on it. The piano became my default option; if I was happy, I played it. If I was sad or angry, I played it. My brother asked my mum one morning where I was. ‘She’s upstairs in her bedroom’ she replied. ‘No she’s not, I can’t hear the piano’.

At the age of about 10, my parents got a Hire Purchase deal on a new modern piano, and I carried on with the exams, sitting Grade 8 at the age of 15. I had a fruitful duet partnership with a classmate, and we had several good party pieces, including the Blue Danube and Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba! My favourite solo pieces included late Beethoven sonatas, and Chopin Nocturnes (typical for an emotional teenager, I think). I carried on lessons with Mrs Kibblewhite until I was 18 – she was my teacher for over 12 years.

When I left home to study, all sorts of other priorities took over, and as I had no regular access to a piano, I just stopped playing. And I haven’t, with any seriousness, played it for 30 years.

But a couple of weeks ago, I took a deep breath and went to have a chat to a friend and neighbour who is also a singer, pianist, recording artist….and teacher. I have taken the first tentative steps back into proper playing, and my new (patient) teacher is taking it slowly – back to Grade 2! I am also starting, after playing nothing but classical, to learn the basics of blues piano and improvisation. It’s the best present I could have given myself.

Happy Christmas everyone!

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