How I Learnt to Play the Piano
A True Story
on Oct 1, 2020
How can I forget the 1997 August school holiday? It was during that holiday that I began my life-long love affair with the piano. I was nine at the time, and in Standard Four at Noru-Moru Primary School. Over that holiday, I heard there was an opportunity to learn how to play the piano in my hometown Catholic Church where I attended mass every Sunday. So I decided to turn up for the piano lessons.
I was giddy with excitement on the morning of the day I was to begin piano lessons in the church. Excited because I looked forward to touching a piano which I had hitherto seen mostly on television. As I left home that day, I must have been walking on air at the prospect of seeing a piano within range of my hands.
Well, I didn't get a chance to touch the piano on my first music lesson which we were taught by a brilliant and dedicated seminarian called Br. Peter Assenga. We were quite too large a class for each of us to have a touch of the piano. All Br. Assenga did during our first few lessons in the church was tutor us Music theory.
I must have been an excellent student given the way I swiftly grasped the rudiments of Music theory. And while we progressed with our music lessons, I eventually had the golden opportunity of touching the piano. Actually it wasn't a piano but an electric Casio piano keyboard which I greatly admired.
When we re-opened school after that 1997 August holiday, Br. Assenga continued giving us music lessons over the weekend on Saturday mornings. He taught us several tricks on the piano such as playing the major scale using chords. Thankfully, the number of students in the music class dwindled, so the few of us left had more time to touch the piano keyboard on those Saturday mornings.
Because I didn't have access to a piano at home or at school, I would practise playing the major scale on a table while assuming it was a piano. That visualization helped, for I quickly learnt how to play chords despite my limited access to a piano.
During one music lesson over the 1997 December holiday, Br. Assenga was so impressed with my progress that he called some other students of his to come witness me fluently play the major scale on the piano with both hands. After I was done playing the scale, he inquired if I was as good in school as I was on the piano. A fellow music student named Douglas Warui informed him I had emerged top in my class the previous term, which was true.
When I entered Standard Five in 1998, I made more progress on the piano by learning how to play several Catholic hymns. One Saturday afternoon that year, I apprised Douglas Warui of my desire to accompany the church choir on the piano while it was singing a hymn I had learnt to play. Warui told me that Br. Assenga wouldn't approve of me accompanying the choir. Despite Warui's discouragement, I went ahead to accompany the choir the following day during mass.
And wow! Contrary to what Warui had predicted, Br. Assenga was elated to see me accompany the choir. He kept cheering me on from where he was singing with the choir. The evening of that Sunday, he suggested to one of my siblings that my family slaughters a chicken for supper in my honour for me having confidently accompanied the choir on the piano.
Although I made remarkable progress in mastering the rudiments of music theory and in learning how to play the piano, I have to admit there was one area in music that gave me trouble. That was learning how to sing solfa. Back in 1997 and in 1998 when Br. Assenga was teaching us, he used to ask us to compose a melody and sing it to him at the beginning of every lesson. It was a simple assignment which should have been fun but one I didn't enjoy owing to my inability to sing solfa.
I vividly recall one Sunday afternoon in 1998 as Br. Assenga was chatting with us (his music students), he had me sing aloud a melody that was in a certain book. While I succeeded in reading the solfas right, I sang them wrongly which made Br. Assenga decry my lack of skill in singing solfa. I just wasn't musically gifted.
As I continued playing the piano, I gradually understood how the solfa are sang. By then, Br. Assenga had already left our church and gone back to the seminary to finish his priesthood studies.
And my dear reader, that is how I learnt how to play the piano which, to me, is the most marvellous music instrument ever invented by man. So much have I come to love the piano that I get electrified whenever I see one in the places I visit.
Looking back on my life, I find it a wonder that I mastered to play the piano despite my limited access to one. If I had had a piano at home when I was a boy, I would now be a pianist of Mozart's caliber. Or maybe I would have become so accustomed to seeing a piano that the instrument would have lost the special appeal it had on me.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on how I learnt to play the piano, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "Childhood Memories". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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A True Story
on Sep 27, 2020
On most afternoons when it gets warm here in Kiserian, I usually go to the back porch of our mansion to bask in the sun. I have observed, during those basking sessions, some mice which come out from a nearby bush to feed on grass and perhaps enjoy the sunny weather too. And whenever I fidget or stretch my arms, the mice bolt away at lightning speed and disappear into the bush. Seeing those mice behave that way has made me understand why people coined the simile "as timid as a mouse".
Like those mice, I also grew up as a timid person. I was often a yes-man: ever submissive to everyone I came into contact with. Owing to my timidness, I hardly ever summoned the courage to stand up for myself. I remember one evening in 2001 when I was heading home from school, my mother informed me that there was a certain girl who had complained that I was harassing her. To tell you the truth, I had no clue who that girl was because I wasn't at loggerheads with anyone. But instead of telling Mum I didn't know what she was talking about, I cowardly said I wasn't disturbing the girl as if I knew her. That's how timid I was.
Looking back on my life, I am thinking I acquired my timidness in the way I was brought up. Back in the '90s when I was a boy, I was often demanded to perform menial tasks at home. If I happened to resist doing the tasks, I would be harshly criticized or even punished physically. An uncle of mine called Ndonga, who used to stay with us in those days, was especially fond of pinching and slapping me - something I never saw him do to my senior brothers.
The tasks that were demanded of me were such duties as fetching firewood, washing utensils and harvesting the leaves of an edible weed known locally as "terere". Imagine I would spend a whole morning (from around 8.00am till noon) on our farm scavenging for the leaves of "terere" which we would cook and have for lunch together with cornmeal cake (ugali). Scavenging for "terere" leaves was such a soul-destroying task which I couldn't refuse doing due to my submissiveness.
A neighbour's farmhand by the name Mwaga - who at one time formed the habit of visiting Uncle Ndonga during lunch hour so that he could get a share of our lunch - also took advantage of my timidness. He would send me to a nearby kiosk to buy him cigarettes. And not once did he ever give me a tip for the favour I was doing him.
One day when Mwaga sent me to get him cigarettes as usual, I tried tasting one on my way back home. I put the cigarette in my mouth, chewed it a bit and after realizing it was tasteless, I threw it away. Thankfully, I didn't know back then that cigarettes are lighted and their smoke inhaled, otherwise I would have become one of the youngest smokers that ever lived. (Mwaga did realize I had brought him one cigarette less than he required. He asked me about it. Though I can't recollect the response I gave him, I do remember he didn't scold me. He must have appreciated the free services I was offering him.)
Then when I joined the prestigious Starehe Boys' Centre in 2002 for my high school education, I continued being submissive. Some senior students in the school would send me to the canteen to buy them bread. I dutifully obeyed them without resisting or demanding a reward for my services; it was just the way I had been brought up. Actually, I didn't realize the seniors were taking advantage of me until a housemate of mine called George Wachuga Maina brought it to my attention one evening when we were away from Starehe on a Survival Club hike.
Although I eventually stopped going to buy bread for seniors after Wachuga enlightened me that I was being taken advantage of, I never did shed away my timidness, for as they say, old habits die hard. There were some other folks at Starehe who had me do some tasks that I now strongly feel I shouldn't have done. Like once when I was in Form 3 at Starehe, a captain sent me to go tell a certain chick that he wanted to talk to her. Apparently, the captain was afraid of approaching the chick, so he took advantage of me.
Even after I left Starehe where I should have become a man, I still continued being timid and submissive. I find it ironic that in spite of all the 'A's I scored in my KCSE exams and all the valuable skills I gained at Starehe, any fool could control me and dictate to me what I ought to do with my life. I was that timid.
Over the past five years, I have worked hard to be the principled person that I should always have been. I have learnt to say "no", to assert myself, to believe in my own ideas, to live life on my own terms and to demand a stipend for my services. To borrow the words of Frederick Douglass, I now prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and incur my own abhorrence.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on overcoming timidness, you might also enjoy another one I wrote last year on "My Struggles With Poor Social Health". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.