It’s a gloomy day in November. My cat is dead. Morose and thoughtful, I sit down at the piano to play — the “Funeral March,” of course; dolorous, haunting and somehow soothing.

A sunny day in June. The Royals have gone on to beat the reviled White Sox after a dramatic ninth-inning comeback. Elated, shocked beyond belief, I sit down to play the “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye” song as those losers from Chicago walk off the field.

I like to stand up while playing “Arabesque.” It’s so jaunty and mad, sitting down seems like an insult to its perky brilliance. Conversely, “Bohemian Rhapsody” requires all of my attention. I sit leaning forward, frowning at the crazy notes and trying to make my hands do somersaults. Freddy Mercury, you sadistic genius!

It’s nuts. Just nuts, I tell you! A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be playing anything at all on the piano, I would have laughed until my pants were wet.

But I play, man. Every day and at all hours. I play because I’m happy and I play because I’m blue, but mostly I play because I can. For all of my life I’ve wanted to play piano, but I was daunted by the grim math of it and by all those freaky and elusive notes.

So, how did it happen? How is it that just moments ago, I was sitting on my hard little bench and pounding out a near flawless (as far as you know) page of “Ashokan Farewell?”

I’ll tell you how. Martha Flippin’ Feeley, that’s how. Behind every newborn talent is a great teacher and I’m pretty sure I have the greatest.


Martha: “Will you try to play a little “Charade” for me?”

Me: “No! I hate “Charade!” It’s too hard!” *running away and hiding under staircase*

Martha: “But you’ve been playing minuets for months now. You’ve learned new techniques. Come on out of there and you can have a cookie.

Me: *sniffle, sniffle* “What kind of cookie?”

And of course, Teach was right. Because she had kept me on a healthy diet of minuets, with the left hand playing its own melodies to accompany those on the right, the intricacies of “Charade” were no longer daunting. When I got down to playing (the cookie was chocolate chip, by the way; delicious) it came easily.

It’s freaky. It’s magic. I have two fat binders stuffed with sheet music and with Martha’s personal compositions and when I sit down to play them, it’s like yanking an ancient power right out of the sky. It’s like harnessing lightning or taming a beautiful beast that once seemed savage and unmanageable.

For me, the marvel isn’t so much that I can play, but that Martha could teach me. Believe it or not (this will stun you,) I’m not the world’s best student. I have a short attention span, a habit of fidgeting and a demand for instant gratification. Yet that one-hour chunk of time each Tuesday has become my favorite part of the week.

In those hours, Martha strings together a series of tactics and techniques, uniting them in one great WOW moment in which I seem to do the impossible. She tricks me into learning sometimes, the way the great Mr. Miyagi tricked Daniel San into glory. It’s the kind of intense self-discovering I haven’t experienced personally since learning to ice skate at 3 or learning to ride a bicycle at 19.

So, a week ago, Martha and I hit our one-year mark. She calls it my birthday and she may be on to something. A year ago, music was something I heard on the radio, not some crazy force that flew out of my fingertips. A year ago, I didn’t have the power.

And now to mark this momentous occasion, I shall play the mad and unruly “Arabesque” one more time. Stand back, my friends. Someone could lose an eye.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. He plays the computer keys, too, and eyes have been lost. Email him at [email protected]

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