Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 27, 2008


Mama was right after all about taking those piano lessons


          As I write this piece my 10-year-old granddaughter is hitting one key after another on her grandmother’s piano. Sarah’s music teacher has graciously come to our home to provide her weekly piano lesson. I am impressed by her willingness to make a house call to teach a little girl. Such a piano teacher must be “one in a million.”

          The sound of Sarah’s notes is not aggravating to my ears. She is not “banging” on the piano as little children sometimes do. She is playing a tune of a simple song that is unfamiliar to me. Key by key the tune is aborning as her fingers slowly find each note.

          Listening to Sarah’s playing triggers memories that have not faded despite the passing of time. When I was a boy about Sarah’s age my mother insisted that I take piano lessons. I hated it but quitting was not an option at the time. For whatever reason the idea that I could ever play with ease never entered my mind.

          Mama finally gave us. My complaining was simply too much. But to her credit she never agreed with my reasoning. And she only allowed me to quit taking piano lessons if I would agree to take voice lessons. She was wise beyond my knowing for I have enjoyed singing all my life.

          Back then I was convinced that playing the piano was for girls or sissy boys. I have no idea where I got that idea. There was no television then and the flamboyant Liberace was young and unknown. Still I was certain that real men did not play the piano; they were athletes. My heroes, the Lone Ranger and Tarzan, did not play the piano.

          I was not turned off by voice lessons because I observed real men who could sing. And my mentor and spiritual father, Si Mathison, took voice lessons from the same teacher who taught me. I did not know then that Florence Golson Bateman, our teacher, was one of Alabama’s finest songwriters and singers. Though blind by age 15, she was an inspiring and gifted teacher.

          But learning to sing was not my first love as a young man. I wanted to play football, not the piano. Football players were tough guys. I thought football could do for me what my Charles Atlas Body-Building kit had not done – turn me into a real man with muscles and hair on my chest.

          Three years on the football team did do a lot for me. I learned the value of discipline and hard work. I discovered the joy of achieving goals as a team. And I became stronger physically, though to this day only one hair has ever appeared on my chest.

          Years later I began to realize that my mother had been right. I should have continued those piano lessons. I could have played both football and the piano. My football playing ended in November of 1949 – nearly 60 years ago. If I had learned to play the piano I could have enjoyed it all those years. Now I must live with the reality that I had a chance and I blew it.

          Thankfully my wife, who took piano lessons for a year or so, continued to learn how to play by teaching herself. Now she plays exceptionally well and I enjoy listening as her fingers glide so easily over the ivories.

          Sarah does not know it but as I listen to her struggling to teach her fingers how to play the piano, I am praying for her. My prayer is that she will not give up but persevere so that for the rest of her life the piano can be her friend and a source of joy. Her decision to do that could be the doorway to a richer life.

          Looking back, most of us have a few regrets. The trick is to refuse to wallow in the pity of what might have been. So when Sarah’s lesson is finished, I will go out in the backyard, sing one of my favorite songs to the squirrels, and give thanks that I did not ignore all of Mama’s advice.  + + +