I’ll never forget hearing Pachelbel’s Canon for the first time. Lying in my bed as a shy young girl, my mom had a tape of George Winston’s December she would play for my younger sister and I, as we fell asleep. The emotional waves in those simple melodious patterns lulled me into a peaceful slumber. This particular melody floated with me, a distant friend until I heard it over a decade in the lounge of my alma mater the University of Oregon.
My best friend and I called him Piano Man. On the outside, he did not conjure the image of Billy Joel at a smoky piano bar or any of the characters he described in the song. This sleek, quiet black-skinned man ran on the track team with my friend Diane, and she blushed every time he walked by her on campus. Tongue-tied, she invited me to come and hear this awe-inspiring sound that he was creating. His long, lean fingers moved across those keys with fury and fire, and we all sat mesmerized as he whisked us to another world.
“He played piano across my back”, Diane told me as we were eating our morning bowl of grapenuts. I was stunned. My shy friend and Piano Man were getting it on. For me, the music was sensual and powerful, but hit a chord deep in my soul.
What about this performance provided a transcendent experience? In order to answer this question, it’s necessary to give a little background. After being a “music mother” to thousands of children for nearly 15 years and a closet composer, I realized it was time to take my piano to the next stage, for I was teaching everything that I was struggling with myself when I sat down on the bench to play. Questions like how do I memorize all of these songs when my memory “ain’t” what it used to be, or how do I have the confidence to perform complex songs that I love but could so easily make mistakes and even more vulnerably, songs that I’ve written. I guess the universe heard my request, for I was awarded a scholarship to an online jazz piano course for an entire year. In a way, I had to start from the “very beginning, a very good place to start,” according to Maria in the Sound of Music.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a concept called Beginner’s Mind. We are going to use this as we approach our Peace at the Keys practice. The first step is to sit on the bench and breath for 5 minutes before you even put your fingers on the keys. Sit in silence and breathe deeply through your nose. Deep, full breaths where you inhale so that your ribs expand like an accordion. Feel the breath moving in and out. If you’re new at this kind of practice, inhale for four beats, hold for four and exhale for four. As you sink deeper into the bench, you may want to elongate your breath. Before you even play the keys, I want you to release all your preconceived notions of what it means to you to play the piano and exhale with an “ahhhhh” sound. Now as you breathe in, develop an affirmation that you will say every time you sit at the piano before you play.
Mine is “Playing Piano Brings Peace”
Years ago, I composed a song after I had a dream about playing Joni Mitchell’s “River” song. The next morning, I woke and envisioned the piano as an eternal, gentle river that I could easily allow my fingers to flow down the keys. And these words came to accompany music.
I had a dream last night. I was playing a Joni Mitchell song, memorizing every note as I tried to sing along. Just like a river, I was wild and free, just like a river, I was flowing so naturally.
Playing piano always sets me free
The blue light of the sea pulses forever through me
Whirling waves cascade as I turn every sacred page
Just like a river, I was wild and free, just like a river, I was flowing so naturally
Playing piano always brings me peace
Through the whispering trees, I skate along every key
Through the black hush of night, my soul is calling to me
Come to the river, come pray with me
Come to the river, it is your destiny
To swim free in the river of peace
Now start at the lowest white key on the piano and let your fingers flow down each note of this beautiful river. Listen to each tone and feel how it moves from the lowest tone to the highest tune. This pattern is called the Music Alphabet. If you have an 88-key keyboard or piano, it will start at A and then move up the alphabet for an octave (8notes) and then starts again. See if you can hear the shift when it starts again. Listen, feel and breathe deeply into each sound. Feel the freedom.
Now press the sustain or damper pedal down and just move your fingers across the white keys in any way that feels good to you.
- Connects to the Mother energy-healing power of the voice
- Guides us to Nurture Ourselves-leads us to health