When I was in second grade, my parents signed me up for piano lessons with a little old lady in Lonoke, Arkansas. I was permitted to walk from school in the middle of the day to her house. I felt so privileged on Wednesdays to get up out of Mrs. DeRoark’s class and excuse myself to do something that I imagine only privileged children could do. I remember very little of my piano teacher. I don’t even remember her name. Just a few mental snapshots of her living room and piano. She taught me how to read music and play little songs from the John Schaum piano book. There were songs like Snug as a Bug in a Rug and Volga Boat Song and many other simple songs that I cannot remember. I loved the book especially because it was full of illustrations that a child could color in with crayons.
To encourage me, my parents would show me Victor Borge comedy shows on PBS. I thought he was hilarious and an extremely good on the piano. I still feel that way. Borge played a lot of Chopin, and before he would begin he would shout “Chopin!” with much flair. I didn’t know what Chopin was or why he said it in such a way, but I was very taken with it.
One evening, my parents had their friends over for dinner. My mother really wanted me to show off what I had learned, and so after dinner everyone adjourned to the living room with their coffee. This is a situation that most children dread, but I did not. I was proud to show what I could do, and I generally liked this kind of attention.
I took my seat at the old standup piano and prepared myself for a grand performance. I remembered what I believed to be an important piece of piano etiquette that I could impress everyone with, and so right before I started “Snug as a Bug in a Rug” I shouted “Chopin!”
The room exploded with laughter. I didn’t know what was so funny, so I just continued to play. Afterwards, I performed a very ostentatious bow holding my little arm across my midsection which they received with as much applause as four adults could possibly make. The laughter was a mystery to me, but I didn’t take it hard. I was well aware of how adorable I was.
I only took piano lessons for my 2nd grade year, and didn’t resume it until I studied music in college. I’d nearly forgot about my performance completely until well into adulthood. I saw a video of Victor Borge doing his bit. When he shouted “Chopin!” then I knew that I must have been the most adorable pianist in the world that night.