Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Piano Player

A few months ago, I ran into Bishop Morgan, who was my bishop my freshman year of college. I couldn't actually remember his name, but I grabbed him and asked if he'd been a bishop of a singles ward at BYU in 1994. He had and as it dawned on him who I was he said, "Yes, yes, I remember you--the piano player."

This was really weird for me. I'd forgotten I'd even played then. Fast forward to last Sunday. I was handing Beck off to Wendell so I could go play the piano in Primary.* A woman in my ward who I would describe as "an acquaintance" asked me, "So what's your calling now?"

"I'm the Senior Primary Pianist," I told her.

"Oh," she responded with an element of surprise, "I didn't know you played."


I took piano lessons for all but 2 years from the ages of 4-17. This was a requirement in my house. (From 8-10 my mom decided she'd teach us, but it mostly turned out that we didn't really have lessons for that period.) By the time I was 14, I was studying at BYU with a professor, who was then the Keyboard Department Chair. My older sister, Christy, and I have always been very competitive. She was much better than me at piano, so I didn't put in as much effort as a should have. If I couldn't best her, then why kill myself trying?

Still, I was pretty good. I accompanied the ward choir. I went to solo-ensemble festival not as a singer, but as an accompanist. I played for my high school choir, for Young Women's, for special music numbers in church. Really, I played a lot.

But if you'd asked most people who knew me, even then, they would have told you I was a singer. That was my label, my forte, my love. Plus, I was a better singer than my sister, or at least that's what people told us. A couple of months before graduating from high school, I talked my mom into letting me quit piano lessons. I got fake finger nails. And I kept singing.

In college, I didn't exactly quit playing the piano. I would occasionally slip away to the practice room in the basement of the dorms and play. But the more voice lessons I took and the better choirs I got into, the less and less people knew I played.

It's now 1998. Wendell and I are married an living in the new Wyview married housing. One Sunday, there was no one to play the piano in Relief Society, so I volunteered. I opened the hymn book and began with some prelude. For the last 4 years, I'd only been playing sporadically, so I was, understandably, a bit rusty. My flubs were too much for one young woman to handle. She crept up next to me and said, "Hey, I'm a piano major. It's OK. I can play now."

Embarrassed, I relinquished my spot at the keyboard and took my seat. And I never played publicly again for 8 years. When people asked if I played the piano, I'd actually say no. I had no piano in my house (until 2002) and my talent deteriorated more and more.

In, January 2007 I got the call I'd been dreading. A member of the Primary Presidency** needed someone to play for the Baptism Preview+. Since Emma would be baptised this year could I please play so they didn't have to have an accompanist come for the tiny meeting. She'd given me a lot of warning, more than a week to practice, so reluctantly, I agreed.

I played just fine at the meeting and got the surprised reactions that I played and played well. Two weeks later I was called to be the Senior Primary Pianist. This has been a delightful year. I'm getting better and better at the piano all the time. And I practice regularly.

At this year's Baptism Preview, it was a given I'd be playing. (Anson will be baptized in November.) They requested a harder song and gave me less notice. As I ran through the song a couple times as prelude to this meeting my Bishop stopped and said, "For someone who says they don't play very well--you sure play well."

I smiled as I made a big goof and said, "It's a lot like riding a bike, Bishop. It just comes back to you."
(*Mormon 101: Primary is the Sunday meeting for children age 3-12. In wards with a large Primary, the kids are often divided into Junior Primary for 3-7 year olds and Senior Primary for 8-12.
**Primary Presidency: 3 women lead the Primary as the Primary Presidency. The presidency is comprised of the President and her two counselors. They meet together regularly to discuss the needs of the children, assign teachers to their class, provide training for teachers and teach other religious study during Sharing Time.
+Baptism Preview: Mormon children can be baptised (by immersion) starting at the age of 8. The Baptism Preview is a small meeting for the children who are turning 8 that year and their parents. The children are told what they need to do and expect at their baptism as well as given information about the mid-week programs that begin at 8 such as Cub Scouts and Achievement Days.)


dh said...

Hey... yet one more thing we have in common! I play also, but I only took lessons for a few years when I was a kid. I learned to read music and taught myself to play hymns. Unlike you, though, I seriously am not that good. I have to practice and practice just to learn one tune... and accompanying? No can do. Tried that a few times and bombed majorly. It is 100% the truth that I come by this talent honestly, as I have to work my tail off to not make any mistakes, and most Sundays, I make many!

Laurie said...

Jenna, I love this story. Thanks so much for sharing it. You're writing is beautiful. I remember that day at BYU, not because you didn't play well, I don't remember that, but I remember that girl taking over for you and I decided right then, that I did not want to play the piano in that ward. There were women who were just way too confident and good at their talents. I have played in many wards since, it's usually my calling, until this ward and our bishop asked if I played and then just laughed and said, there are so many pianists in this ward your talents are not needed. I haven't played at all in over two and a half years. Somedays it makes me sad. I don't even teach anymore because I feel like I lack in talent. I know that I don't but I do not like competition. I'm so sorry that you had that experience. I hope that you will play and play and play. You have the best of both worlds, you play and you sing. I always enjoyed singing more but I was always the pianist and my sisters were the singers, so I don't sing. Only around my house, where no one has to listen to me but me!

Jenna Wood said...

Laurie, I can't believe you remember that. That ward was oddly, musically competitive. Weird.

When she first approached me and offered to play, I turned her down. But then she said something like, "I figure you're embarrassed with all the mistakes you're making. I'm a piano major, I can play this."

Once she pointed out my mistakes I was done for. Having said that, I really don't think she meant to hurt my feelings. I think she thought she was legitimately helping. I don't have any bad feelings toward her, but I'm glad my current ward is supportive in the way I need.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I can't believe someone would actually come up and tell you about your mistakes. I'm sure she thought she was helping, but still. I play a little, but only simplified stuff and only at home!

cltgrace said...

Hi hi! Saw your link on 5 minutes...looking for your party post. It's a grand party at that! I have great admiration (and jealousy) for all musicians. I am what our band calls a "throat" - meaning I'm a singer.
Welcome to the party! What a great opportunity to make some new bloggy friends!

Peek in on us at GraceFULL days~ we love new faces & comments. Bloggy thanks in advance for voting for my GraceFULL moment at Vicks Caring Tributes:

Grace to you~

Lara said...

"Piano Player" was my calling from 12 years old in YW to 22 years old. I was so ready for another calling, but now that I have one, I so miss it. And don't be so humble. You're amazing at it, right??

Jennifer @ Fruit of My Hands said...

Thank goodness it doesn't go away. I can't tell you how many breaks I've taken because life happened over the years.

Your piano "resume" is impressive. I bet you are wicked good.