Torturing the ivories

Published 9:06 pm Thursday, December 8, 2011

Not many know this, but I took a beginner’s piano class in college. Somewhere between late night Time Life infomercials with Stevie Wonder belting out “Superstition” on the electric organ and watching the movie “Great Balls of Fire” about Jerry Lee Lewis, I figured it was time to test my chops on the 88-keyed beast.

The class consisted of me and my instructor, a stout and encouraging little lady whose name simply eludes me. Every Wednesday for two hours that semester, I tried my very best to turn the fingers of an artist into those of a world-class pianist.

But it simply wasn’t meant to be. My instructor suspected my fingers were simply too short and stubby. (Words hurt, ma’am.) Even though I spent every Saturday in that cramped little practice room in the music department, my version of “Superstition” came out sounding a lot like throwing an organ down the stairs into a mirror, and my “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” would have made Jerry Lee Lewis kick me in both shins.

Email newsletter signup

But I got the glory I sought from that one semester of piano lessons, because, even lesser known to the general public, I got to perform three piano recitals as a requirement to pass the class. I never told my friends or family about them.

The thing about these recitals is that they were not divided by skill levels. The music majors performed on the very same bill as those on my level, which was best described by my instructor as the “bless-your-heart-for-trying” division.

For my final recital of the semester, I was to go on after some senior who not only played his selection with mind-boggling precision, but appeared to me to be performing magic tricks at the very same time. He was like a Rolling Stones concert, and I was some guy who may as well have been playing a kazoo following him. But I sat. I played. And the audience on hand was treated to the absolute worst rendition of “The Banana Boat Song” ever slapped across the face of a set of piano keys.

As an apology to those who attended, I ask that you and anyone else with a need to hear the piano as it should be played come out to hear George Winston at the SCCA on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Having sat behind the keys for decades, Winston has mastered what I had intended to do that fateful night in college.

Moreover, Winston’s show will benefit a good cause, as he is asking that everyone bring a non-perishable food item to benefit the local food bank. And any pianist interested in keeping people fed is definitely after my own heart.

So if you were unfortunate enough to witness my incredibly brief excursion into the world of music, ask Mr. Winston if he can play “The Banana Boat Song.” After hearing me, you deserve to hear it played correctly.

Tickets for Mr. Winston’s concert are $35 and $45. To purchase tickets, call 923-2900 or visit