[su_dropcap style=”flat”]W[/su_dropcap]HEN I WAS in 8th grade my dad caved in to my mom’s insistence that we have a piano. Not a castoff or old upright, but brand new Kimball console. You might not think that’s strange, but as I watched the men from our church unload the monstrosity from the truck, I was as mystified as any 13 year old girl could be. As soon as it was settled in the living room I had to ask. “Who’s going to play it?” You have to understand that we lived in a very small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I didn’t know one piano teacher. And even if I had, my dad’s meager pastor’s salary wasn’t going to stretch across anyone’s mastery of the 88 keys of a piano. The story doesn’t end there, though.
The piano was like a magnet to me. I knew the basic notes and where middle C was because my sister, who had now been married for ten years and living hundreds of miles away, taught me how to play a few songs from a book when I was barely five years old. Besides, I rationalized, playing clarinet in the school band taught me the treble scale. Surely I could learn how to play this magic instrument with just one other base scale. Every day after school, the first thing I did was sit down and pick out a few lines from an old hymnbook. School was hard for me, so I had to spend extra time on homework, but every moment, even if I had only three minutes, my hands were somewhere on that piano. I’m certain my brother’s expertise on the basketball court is due in part to my pounding away on the piano and his extra time pounding basketballs anywhere away from the noise.
A year went by and our elderly church pianist couldn’t play anymore so my dad said, “Well, Janie, I guess it’s up to you.” I practiced even harder for the next few weeks, then I was ready. My mom kept telling me to just be calm, don’t worry, you’ll do fine. I’m sure I looked at her like she had two heads. When you’re 14 and the congregation numbers only 65 people on a really good Sunday, being brave isn’t even a question. I didn’t think about the fact that I had never had a formal lesson or that I had taught myself how to play the piano. I just knew I could play songs and people actually recognized them, right?
The next year our school started a jazz band and needed someone to play the piano. I know what you’re thinking – – – but I asked for it and I got it, but what a challenge! Playing show tunes was not your average 100 year old hymn. It was fun and I practiced even more than before, if that’s even possible. The real reward though, was when the school superintendent asked if I could play the piano for baccalaureate and graduation. I played that year and the next two years until I moved away from the area.
Yesterday I wrote about the comforting prayer in Numbers 6:24-26 “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Every time I hear that verse, it quiets my soul. It also takes me back to those years in Bergland, Michigan when every year, the choir sang the song, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You …. Till We Meet Again.