Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Embarrassing Question

My piano teacher at 14 was our next door neighbor, Mrs. Bohn.  She was a concert pianist with strong, shortish hands and medium pointy fingers.  She smoked cigarettes heavily and drank Coca-Cola like it was going out of style.  She was a big woman with a confident, outgoingness to match her very loud husky voice.

One day Mrs. Bohn came over to retrieve one of her kids from a playdate.  Somehow we got huddled around the piano and my mother, who was pretty good, was playing her three standards: The Blue Danube Waltz, Over the Waves and Jubilee March.  Mom also had some music she couldn’t play that was way too hard.  “Black with notes!” she’d say.  We got Mrs. Bohn to let her hair down and take a stab at these ridiculous pieces. 

She wasn’t perfect but oh my, what a talent at sight-reading and proficiency.  It was an impromptu concert / dog and pony show in one and I think she enjoyed giving the performance.  We certainly enjoyed it and were a very appreciative audience, clapping and carrying on. 

Many years later, during a vacation back to St. Louis, I spoke with her about my fledgling discoveries and writings.  I was young, mid-20s and good but, in her eyes, still green.  Then I asked her the embarrassing question.

“Do you know how to play by ear?” 

She paused to consider it but didn’t really answer one way or another.  Her response was something along the lines that she ‘loved playing classical music and that’s where her heart was at.’  I think that’s fair.  When you have that caliber of skill it must be exhilaration with so much classical out there to love.  Playing by ear wasn’t important to her.  I think there are a lot of people who play advanced classical that feel that way too.  It’s just a different world.


Joseph Pingel is a pianist, teacher and musicologist.  Click here to get the free companion book to this blog.  See his other sites at and 

© 2011 Keyed Up Inc

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to get my free copy!