An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Piano Lessons with Mr. Jeff

If children were not introduced to music at an early age,
I believe that something fundamental is actually being taken from them.
~Luciano Pavarotti

When Nicholas and Jonathan were in grade school they took piano lessons.

Their teacher -- Mr. Jeff -- recently moved to Augusta and was looking for piano students; truthfully, the only reason we decided to go with him was simply because he came to our house. This was huge for me. Timothy was less than a year old, so I cannot tell you what a blessing it was to not have to take the boys to a piano lesson but have the piano lesson come to them.

Mr. Jeff was the most untraditional piano teacher you can imagine. Prior to arriving in Augusta he had worked as the organist for the Atlanta Thrashers when Atlanta had a professional hockey team, so needless to say he was loud, fun, and had a dramatic flair. The boys loved him.

Once a week he arrived shortly after dinner and would spend the first half hour with Nicholas, and then Jonathan. He used a music theory book to go over basics, and even assigned a little homework, but he never taught the boys any of the silly songs in the book; instead, he took a music theory lesson and applied it to music by Billy Joel, or to theme song from Charlie Brown or Star Wars. He always assigned each boy a different song, so for that one hour while I loaded the dishwasher, and while Timothy crawled everywhere (including near the piano), and with Mr. Jeff sometimes improvising a duet, we had a virtual concert coming from our dining room. We enjoyed having him in our home, and he always left with some dinner leftovers or a plate of cookies I had baked that afternoon.

But then, sadly, Mr. Jeff moved to Florida and the piano lessons stopped. We tried two different piano teachers after he left, but neither one was Mr. Jeff so the boys lost interest.

Little did I know that those piano lessons with Mr. Jeff would one day come full circle.

Years later, when Nicholas was a junior in high school, he asked for an electric guitar for Christmas and taught himself how to play. He had music sheets everywhere. Before he went off to college he purchased an acoustic guitar and, again, he learned on his own, lugging the guitar on camping trips or beach outings with his college friends. During this, his last semester at Clemson, he needed to take an elective so he signed up for a piano class.

Jonathan was in 7th grade when he requested an electric keyboard for Christmas. I was thrilled because he always had a natural rhythm on the piano. In high school he purchased music books from 2nd & Charles, downloaded songs from the internet, and practiced constantly. This past December he upgraded to a better quality keyboard, one with more keys, and practices every day after and between classes. He occasionally sends me a text video of him playing a new song.

Finally, there is Timothy. Other than crawling around Mr. Jeff's ankles during those piano lessons, Timothy never experienced his unorthodox teaching style. We tried traditional piano lessons for one year (plus a summer), but abandoned them after they started to feel like a forced march. Like his brothers, however, Timothy came back to music on his own. Last week he came home from school and asked if he could play my guitar. A few days later he downloaded a Pokémon score from the internet (Littleroot Town Duet) and taught himself how to play the first two lines on the piano.

And I love that there is music in our house, that those early lessons were a springboard for learning later, when they wanted to return to it. Now, when all the boys are home, music is drifting from the rec room, down the stairs from their bedrooms, and even from the very same piano where they sat with Mr. Jeff so many years ago.

Jonathan, teaching Timothy

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