On this blog I mainly write about running. Generally personal running challenges or the things that I get up to with the Green Heart Runners, with the occasional poem or song thrown in. This may give an impression that my most important hobby and the activity that defines me most, or that I would most want to be known for, is running and group exercise. This, though, would be a false impression. Running has come to me only in the last few years and sprang from a necessity to reverse an ever-expanding waistline and a growing interest in looking after my own, and if possible, others’, physical and mental health. And I love it. However if you were to ask my family, and school and university friends, the hobby I am generally best known for enjoying and having worked hardest at throughout my life, is playing the piano.
I love playing the piano. It was my favourite toy as kid, and still is. It was the skill I mastered quicker than any other. It became a thing that others wanted to hear me play, rather than just being forced to. It was how I came to be involved in amateur dramatics and school musical productions. It became a source of income to me in my late teens, and my main social activity at University. It was a vehicle to bridging the language and cultural divide and making friends when I lived in Japan. It was a source of income again in my twenties at social functions and at local pubs and restaurants. It became an accompaniment to my poetry and song-writing efforts. It was the first skill I have attempted to teach to others, and most recently it has been the medium through which I have been trying to entertain my friends and colleagues during lockdown over social media.
I have decided to focus some time on recalling my piano journey from a child to the present day and publish it in readable chunks on this blog over the next few weeks and months. As ever, this is primarily for my own pleasure and posterity, but I hope it may be of interest to anyone who has charted a similar journey with any instrument or skill they may have first taken up as a child and which has become a part of who they are as they have grown older. Maybe it will inspire someone to stick at something, if their motivation or confidence is beginning to wane.
This first introductory post is a simply an attempt to gather my thoughts on this subject and laying out the contents (roughly) in advance to give myself, as well as you, some sort of an idea as to what future posts on this theme will cover. Publishing this blog post alone will be the act of commitment I need to actually see this project through; a favourite self-trick of mine, tell enough people you’ll do something and to save face, you actually have to do it.
More thoughts will no doubt come to me the minute I publish this post, but for now, some initial flashbacks that I will enlarge upon are:
- My very first dabbles and dalliances with the piano and the on-going battle I had between playing what I wanted to play and what the Associated Board of the The Royal Schools of Music required me to play in order pass my piano exams (and the dreaded Grade 5 theory exam).
- My initially tentative, then more confident, steps in to performing publicly in my early teens. Musical productions, care homes, and the social-do at the annual Prison Dog Show Trials in Leicestershire spring to mind!
- Being in my sixth form years and learning for the first time that you can make money from playing the piano and beginning to understand the distinction between playing for pleasure and playing for cash.
- The wonderful days of forming and playing with my band at University. This was just one of the best experiences of my life with friends who remain dear and close to me this day.
- Mr Leo’s Bluesgrass Band, ‘Robbie and Friends’, and other far eastern experiences – Obama, Fukui. Japan (2002-2004).
- Failures, incompatible musical tastes, unequal levels of ambition with other musical collaborators, and the difficulty of juggling a career with the commitment required to regularly perform solo, or in a band.
- Being reunited with my childhood piano and my resurgent interest in playing, performing and teaching since 2015
- Speculation as to what the next stops will be in the journey of the piano and I as I enter the next decade of my life!
So this is the plan. Before I sit down to play any tune, I do a few scales and arpeggios to get my hands and arms warmed up. I feel I have now done the literary equivalent here and am ready to get going. Simply writing this list has whetted my appetite to get started and confirmed in my own mind, just how influential, important and central the piano has been in my life.
I’ll try to record my musical memories in chronological order but mishaps may occur. They will of course be interrupted by other musings along the way, but hopefully by the end of the year I will have charted the journey that the piano and I have been on from 1981 to 2021.
Are we ready? One, two, ah one, two, three and…..