Estey

In the middle of teaching piano class yesterday, I realized that next Monday is March 1. And I started grinning like an idiot.

In March, the moving company will schedule my piano’s move from Chicagoland to my living room in Portland. In fewer than two whole months — one of which is admittedly rather long — I will have my piano in my hands again. It will be here, mere feet away from where I sleep. At night, when everyone is finished working, I’ll be able to sit by my front window and play the songs that roll through my head like clouds. When the winter rains hit again, I can play my grief for the loss of sunlight into the rain outside our door. My neighbor, who once was a dancer, says she is looking forward to my “concerts”; behind a wall and curtains and solely for my nearby friends is likely the only way I’ll be comfortable performing.

Since I started teaching again, my thoughts and hands are full of notes and melodies, left-hand runs and right hand trills, crashing chord progressions and lilting dances. Teaching adults has stirred a part of my music brain that has been silent for a while, and it’s alight with potential pieces for study or performance for the students and for myself. We talk about the purpose behind a given composition, or the trend of a specific era, and a closet full of knowledge bursts forth, stuff I didn’t know I had retained.

And I can’t wait to use it again in my own practice. Beneath my own hands.

Here’s how I teach now, with a keyboard on my desk, the laptop camera and my phone on a mount overlooking my hands on the keyboard. The textbook in electronic form is on the large monitor. It works fine for these purposes, but it’s not great for piano practice. Wrong seat position, wrong hand position, and the keyboard will never sound like a piano. It just won’t.

The last time I had the piano in my house, I was absorbed with the final stages of childrearing, and working sometimes part time, sometimes full time, and teaching small-to-medium children who came to my house for instruction. Once the noise of teaching after-school lessons was finished, the last thing I was going to do was subject my family to my repetitive practice sessions, right in the middle of the living room. And then, of course, I had to make dinner and do dishes. Piano was there, but my brain wasn’t.

When I moved to Portland without my piano, I found the Community Music Center while looking for a place to practice. That search turned into volunteer work which turned into a paid position. All along, I resisted any suggestion that I teach there, given the incredible pedigrees (Berklee School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Yale, Reed) of their existing teachers. Who am I to teach among such talented and educated professionals? It didn’t seem right.

Basement Steinway at CMC, complete with dehumidifier to protect the instrument from moisture fluctuation. Back when I was studying with my own teacher, surrounded by pianos with little time to practice.

I worked at CMC off and on for years, until 2019, when it became ON with permanence. I was lucky to work with Michael Shay, an incredible musician and teacher who lit everyone around him with enthusiasm and joy for music. He found a way to nudge me out of my introvert shell and invite me back into music. He allowed me to substitute teach for piano classes. He listened to my thoughts about teaching methods and creativity, and discussed the possibility of starting a piano class for kids with special needs. After subbing for senior class a few times, I moved into one-on-one subbing at Rosewood. One piano teacher trusted me to work with their students when the teacher had to be absent. Many professional music teachers spend a lot of time performing themselves, which left occasional openings for a sub, and because I don’t perform (shudder), I’m always available.

It was Michael who asked if I would be interested in virtual teaching after quarantine started. That started with one student then turned into two and three. Then he recommended me to Senior Rec, where I am now teaching two piano classes with a possible third starting in April 2020.

I am so grateful. He may never know how much those acts have done.

May be an image of 2 people and people smiling
Michael Shay, on the right, is an inspiring and thoughtful leader. I’m lucky to have worked with him.

Teaching piano has colored my writing as well. It’s added dimension and texture, joy and sadness to the words I’m holding. It may be the interactive nature of teaching or the requirement of articulating thoughts about an abstract. It may be the way music vibrates in my chest, dislodging thoughts that had been stuck.

Whatever the cause, piano has been returned to me. More than the instrument that’s headed my way, more than the connection with students and the process of learning, piano is all-encompassing, absorbing, insistent and demanding. It’s calling to me, in the absence of my instrument, and I am impatient to respond.


This is my Estey. It has had a good and safe home among musicians and other instruments with my friend Andrea. It will soon be on its way on a solo trip across the country to live with me.

Tim and Sophia have said they will understand the rush of playing that will occur when the piano arrives. They’ll put on headphones, they say, and it will be fine. I’m not sure they understand the aural damage this large instrument will do in our small apartment, but frankly right now, that’s their problem. Quarantine will likely end not long after the piano arrives — probably mere months, at most — and anyway, I’ve waited long enough. I’ve stayed quiet, deferred the experience of being and living piano and music so that they — my family, these people I love — could have the space to pursue their lives.

There’s no avoiding it now. It’s inevitable. By the end of April, I’ll be completely reunited with music. It’s coming, can you feel it?

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