Singing At The Piano

By Ruth Heil

As you hustle through the holidays, there is one thing that does not require advance preparation, and anyone can do it. This season, whenever you have the chance, I encourage you to sing.

Yes, sing.

Today in America, it seems the only people who sing are those we pay to perform. Professional concerts are a great way to enjoy music, but consider the fun our ancestors had caroling in the streets. Sure, we still sing in our cars or in the shower, but we have forgotten how wonderful it can be to create live music with other people. When we do, our prayers are louder, our celebrations are happier, and our emotions are higher. The sense that singing can help make our wishes for peace and happiness come true came to me while I was sitting at a piano about 15 years ago. It happened at a holiday party given by my friends, Jay and Kathy. They had been hosting the same type of holiday party since college. The guests had arrived with plates of warm bread, pork roast and sweet desserts. The suburban home sparkled with decorations of blue glass and silver snowflakes. The event was not formal, but everyone clearly paid close attention to their appearance on this special December night. We met with a hug or a kiss even though it was difficult to remember all the names at a party of this size.

Jay was a musician. Instead of a table and chairs, his dining room held a shiny, black, grand piano. Jay never had time to play for us because he was busy mixing martinis or welcoming more than 100 guests.

He had the enviable ability to “play by ear.” I, however, could not play a single song without the aid of sheet music, and as a result, very few people knew about my lifelong hobby. Instead of lugging around a music book, I elected to keep quiet. I came to realize that not only was it silly to keep my talent a secret, holding back was downright selfish.

My awakening started when I noticed, resting open on the music rack, sheet music for  “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” by Mel Torme and Robert Wells.

Back at home I still played the same, aging, Betsy Ross spinet piano my grandmother had bought for my mother when she was a child. This was my chance to try out a gorgeous new Yamaha. Amidst the sounds of clinking glasses and rambunctious conversation, I quietly asked permission to try it out. Jay responded with a confused smile and immediately turned off the radio. Then, when no one was looking, I snuck up to the piano, sat on the equally shiny, wooden bench, put my right foot on the pedal, touched the keys and began to play one of my favorite holiday melodies.

To say I was nervous is an understatement.

Soon, a crowd gathered around me. One brave soul began to sing. Then another. Before the second verse, it seemed as if the entire party had joined in, and they were singing so loudly, I could barely hear the piano.

I made a lot of mistakes, but when I saw how happy everyone was, it dawned on me: it makes no difference how good you are; what matters is that you participate.

The partiers begged for more. Unaccustomed to the attention, I desperately tried to explain that I needed sheet music. Two people started digging through the compartment in the piano bench, and after they found a holiday songbook, we spent the next two hours joyfully singing every page.

As I drove home that night, I thought about all the years I had hidden my ability. Someone once said to me, “A talent is a gift from God; using that talent is your gift in return.” I was finally beginning to understand.

Every year since, Kathy, the hostess, sent a little note in her invitation, “Don’t forget to bring your music.” She had lost her hearing, yet she would enjoy the energy anyway and danced along to the vibration. Her disability had not stopped her; I was ashamed that shyness had once stopped me.

Music has a magical ability to reduce stress – a remedy most of us need during this busy season. While it is good for us any day, the holidays represent a time when we get to make a little of our own. Maybe it is because we know the words to the carols we have been hearing since childhood; or it might be a result of the season’s many festive gatherings; or it could be due to the fact that almost every event seems to contain some sort of sing-a-long.

Whatever the reason, never remain quiet due to some ill-conceived notion that you are not good enough. Do not throw away God’s gift of song or disregard the beautiful voice that nature gave you. Otherwise you will miss out on one of the season’s most uplifting activities.

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