I started taking piano lessons at the age of four and had continued on and off until I was fourteen years old. Yet, not a single classical piece exists that I can play properly. There are several clear reasons for that.
To begin with, the motive for the lesson was wrong. My vain mother bought the piano as a symbol of wealth not to play it but to show it to visitors although she really hated music. Then she assumed she would be ashamed if someone noticed the piano in our house stood exclusively for a decorative purpose and she decided to make me play it well. I took lessons at my mother’s order, not from my own passion. At first, a neighbor woman who had played the piano when she was young came to my house regularly to teach me. With an introduction from her, I got into Kuribayashi Piano School before long.
The school held a recital once a year at the big hall in downtown. My mother would invite her parents to show the pretty dress in which she clothed me. She would make me practice so earnestly for this once because her vain couldn’t allow me to fail on the stage in front of a large audience. It used to be a big night for my family. The piece for each student was picked up according to their skill by Mr. Kuribayashi every year. Gradually, year after year, the students who were much younger than I was were assigned to much more difficult pieces than mine because I had developed my skill too slowly due to lack of practice. The spot of the students in a recital was decided in ascending order of difficulty of the piece, from the easiest to the most difficult. Consequently the best student of the school played last in the recital. In this order, I had become next to a small boy by the time I was a junior high student. The rehearsal was taken place in the large living room of Mr. Kuribayashi’s home. When my turn came and I sat in front of the piano, I found the chair was too high as the player before me was a small boy. I tried to adjust the chair but didn’t know how. I struggled for some time while other students were quietly waiting and staring. I became panicky with embarrassment. I was all of a sweat jiggling the chair for the time I felt eternally. I glanced at Mr. Kurubayashi for help. He was just watching without a word. At that moment, I suddenly realized. I had long been not his favorite any more. How could I have not known for such a long time, about such an apparent fact like this, I wondered. Amid terrible embarrassment, horrible disappointment gripped me. A girl who was about my age became unable to just watch my embarrassing fight with the chair and came up to me. She adjusted the chair for me in a flash. That girl was assigned to the last spot of the recital that year, which meant she was the best student. She beautifully played her piece, Chopin’s ‘Fantaisie-Impromptu’ that I believe is the most difficult piece for the piano in the world. When I listened to her play, I felt embarrassed further for my low skill and my longtime self-conceit. And I was clearly convinced that she was the favorite of Mr. Kuribayashi. Immediately after the recital, I left the school.
While I liked music so much that I wanted to become a professional singer someday, I loathed practicing the piano. My older cousin who was good at the piano visited our house one day and asked me to show how much progress I had made so far in playing the piano. I couldn’t understand why she tried to ruin her visit that I had been looking forward to. As I had imagined, she pointed out flaws in my play and began to teach me by which the day was ruined for me. Before I knew it, the keys went blurred because I was crying. She was shocked to see it and apologized repeatedly, but seemed puzzled why practice gave me so much pain. I shared her wonder for that matter.
As I hated practice that much, lessons at Kuribayashi Piano School became a torture. I took a lesson once a week, but I often didn’t touch the piano for the whole week until my next lesson. I was such a lazy student who was always short of practice. Nevertheless, I was somehow the favorite of my teacher, Mr. Kuribayashi. He liked my playing that was stumbled almost constantly, and kept admiring me by saying “You’re talented.” While I was playing, he often hummed along and danced to it. He hadn’t been in good spirits like that with other students. He instructed them strictly and sometimes scolded them. My younger sister started taking lessons a few years later and going to the school with me. Unlike me, my sister was a diligent student and practiced playing every day at home. In one lesson, after Mr. Kuribayashi danced to my usual bad playing and uttered his ‘You’re talented’, in my sister’s turn he slapped my sister’s hand and yelled at her, “No, no, no! It’s not like that! Not at all!”, which drove her to quit the piano for good. On the other hand, he had never scolded me. He was pleased with my play no matter how badly I played. He just showed his frustration saying, “If only you would practice…” Even when I was lazy enough to come to his lesson without cutting my nails, he would quietly hand me a clipper and tell me to be ready while he taught another student. Since I was too dependent on his ‘You’re talented’ and fully conceited, sometimes it took months to finish one piece and move on to another. In those cases, Mr. Kuribayashi would say, “Let’s change the mood, shall we?” and introduce me to a different composer’s piece for lessons, but would never scold me even then.
Ironically, I have never hated playing the piano. On the contrary, I’m fond of it after decades have passed since I quit lessons. While I still don’t practice, being able to play Chopin’s ‘Fantaisie-Impromptu’ remains one of my far-fetched dreams to this day.