Rachel S. Heslin
Thoughts, insights, and mindless blather

Learning A New Skill
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You know the old cliche that parents supposedly tell their children, "Some day, you'll thank me for this" -- ?

The only thing for which that was true for me was piano lessons. I hated piano lessons for the first three years. Then I realized that I could actually play things. I took lessons from about the age of five or six until I was 15.

One day, my teacher interrupted me and said, "That's not the way it's written."
I said, "I know; I like my way better."
Horrified, she said, "You can't do that!"
To which I replied, "Watch me," and I quit taking lessons.

I didn't touch the piano for a full year after that. When I came back, I started writing my own stuff.

I hadn't a clue about theory. I couldn't tell you a thing about progressions or that the 6th of a major key is minor or anything. In fact, my freshman year at UCLA, I had an opportunity to jam with Vangelis when my student group brought him to Royce Hall, and he invited me to come hang with him and his crew at the hotel cottage afterwards. I totally blew it. Oh, well.

After taking a few music theory classes at school, I really started getting into it when I moved to Hollywood. I lived in an old brick building on Orange, behind the Chinese and overlooked by the Magic Castle. I loved the building because it still had little doors in the hallways which, although now sealed, had been the access to the still intact iceboxes. Besides, the front was covered in dragon sculptures and called "The Nirvana" -- how could I not love it?

Anyway, I rented a little upright piano (now that was fun trying to fit into the vintage elevator, although I think the movers finally chose the 2 flights of stairs). The cool thing was that the wall that the piano was against had, on its other side, a hallway leading to a fire escape, and the guy who lived beneath me was a bassist who not only had no problem with my playing at 3 in the morning, but he'd occasionally play along.

It was wonderful. I could play whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, however inspiration struck. I loved it, and I actually got halfway decent, IMHO.

When my mother's parents died in '93, I inherited their baby grand. Since I had nowhere to put it, it took up residence in my parents' living room for many years. When Shawn and I were looking to buy a house, our three non-negotiable requirements were: (1) garage, (2) more than 1 bathroom, and (3) must have room for baby grand.

The piano moved in with us in September of '01. I was in alt.

Of course, over the past 4 decades, that piano had moved from the Bay Area to San Juan Capistrano (a mile from the beach) to our own 7000' arid altitude -- and hadn't been tuned in all that time. It was truly excruciating, especially learning new pieces and constantly thinking I'm playing the wrong notes.

Now, it costs about $300 to tune a baby grand. Money is very tight right now, and there are a lot of other things we could spend the money on. So Shawn bought me a tuning key for Valentine's Day (he's such a sweetie!), I unburied my chromatic tuner, and I am teaching myself how to tune a piano.

It's a pain in the butt.

Did you know that, except for the very lowest ranges, every note has three strings? Neither did I. Actually, it's not that difficult, but it is very meticulous. I got four notes done tonight! But, well, now the rest of the notes sound even more like crap.


I'm really looking forward to being able to play again. In the meantime, I guess I'll just go Zen and tune my life, one string at a time.

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