No friendship is easy. There are times when you can’t imagine your life without that friend. You make the best memories and you look forward to each visit. But then there are times when you just want to walk away and never look back. Sometimes you have to work hard to stay in touch. You have to take time out of your day to check in, see how things are going, iron out rough spots and have a little fun. You have to make that relationship a priority and nurture it and learn from it and let it grow you in ways you never thought you could grow.
I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine. We’ve been friends for almost seventeen years now. I can come to this friend with anything. Always eager to listen and understand no matter if I’m angry or sad, excited or afraid. We’ve been through a lot together. This friend is the piano and I am so thankful for it.
I’m thankful that my parents choose to put me in piano lessons when I was five. I’m thankful that I managed to stick with it. I’m thankful for all the times I’ve played and thought about how blessed I am to be able to do what I do. I remember leaving my very first piano lesson with a grasshopper sticker, knowing all my finger numbers and playing two little “black key” songs. I felt like a pro. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
I have no memory of practicing the piano at all until about age ten. According to my mom I did practice before age ten and it, of course, was a fight sometimes. But other times she had to persuade me to not practice and go play outside or to take a break (probably so she could put my baby sibling down for a nap!). I like to see the piano at this time in my life as a playground friend. Always around and willing to play, but slow to argue if you decide you just want to do your own thing. The friend that doesn’t need you around but always loves to see you. The friend who will welcome you back without question.
Before leaving home, I studied with two pianists. My first teacher taught me the foundations of playing the instrument and the importance of self-discipline. My second teacher taught me how to play expressively; how to breath with the music I make. It was with my second teacher that I truly developed a deep connection with music. He taught me how to listen and be gentle. He told me it was ok to not have it together all the time.
I remember a day when I was worried about my sister, my best and closest friend. She was going in for an appendectomy and I knew she was terrified. My heart was so restless and my stomach seized up tight. I was at home trying to keep it all together while she was so far away in the hospital. I didn’t know what to do with myself so I went to the piano and played and played and played. I played until the phone rang and my parents told me everything would be all right. I played happily after hearing the news, my fingers knowing just what notes needed to be heard.
I remember when I was auditioning for universities. I would be warming up alone in a small room just me, the piano, and the unknown future swinging over my head. I remember surrendering completely in those moments, to just being present and existing in a place of peace. I remember playing the simplest sweetest things and being assured that even if I didn’t get accepted to any university I would still play the piano for as long as I was able to do so.
Now an alumnus of the University of Toronto with my Bachelors of Music in hand, I feel even closer to the piano. I’ve studied with wonderful players and pedagogues. I’ve spend hours with uprights in tiny practice rooms. I’ve spend evenings alone in empty classrooms, reconnecting with the ever elusive grand piano. Even when the stress was high I had the piano. Even when the piano was causing the stress with performances and lessons and evaluations looming — I still had the piano. The piano was there and listening, patient and compassionate. Not a replacement for loving arms of my mother but a close second.
The whole friendship started to make the most sense when I began teaching. I remember the terror I experienced teaching a piano lesson for the first time. Trying as best I could to introduce the piano, a long time friend of mine, to a child who had never encountered such a friendship before. It’s a nervous-excited stomach. It’s a step-by-step climb. An adventure like no other. As I teach more and more this first encounter is one of the things I love the most about teaching, that and watching a friendship develop between a human being and an instrument.
No friendship is easy. There are ups and downs. Times of frustration and laughter. Distance and struggle. But somehow it’s all worth it and you wouldn’t change it for the world and you would do anything to try to convince everyone and anyone to at least give it a try. Old or young. Experienced or not. Music is for everyone and so are friendships. Lovely, unpredictable, fulfilling.
The piano is my friend and I love it dearly. My fingers can find the keys in the darkness. My hands can discover melodies that are timely and needed. It’s so comfortable and right, there with the blacks and the whites. Keys that can unlock so much more that just sounds.
This post is part of a series that features Toronto's musicians' journey to becoming a professional musician. To read more of their stories, click here.
Bailey Grineage has been teaching piano at Upper Beaches Music School for 4 years. She is passionate about music education and introducing the piano to young (and young at heart!) musicians. When she is not teaching, Bailey enjoys yoga, drinking tea, and spending time with those she loves.