Friday, May 22, 2009

It All Began with a Toy Piano

Today I'm what kids call a "grownup", although I love to believe that, if you showed me the picture that the Little Prince drew, and I was not already in the know, I'd be certain that it was a boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant, and not merely a hat. Of course, I've spent much of my life fascinated by creatures such as boa constrictors and elephants and have always been rather bored by hats, at least the ordinary kind that exist only to serve the very ordinary purpose of protecting one's head from the elements. Because I try, in my heart, to remain a kid always and forever. And so I will share a secret about myself that may not be obvious to the world, looking at me as a company leader, ex-professor, writer, mom, and more.

I love music. I play music. I have, in my house, one grand piano, one electronic grand piano (so that I can play without waking anyone), 2 keyboards, a harp, and about 5 guitars (I believe that we are losing track of the guitar numbers as my son now has begun this process of collecting and playing musical instruments, too). And yes, I play them all. I'm not really all that good at it, which is why it remains a hobby. I have never had the fortitude or patience to memorize a long piece of music, or heck, even a very short one. I'd rather move on to the next piece, trying each one, enjoying it for what it is and never worrying about perfection. I did actually play in a band once, and was even paid for a performance! It was at the Tanana Valley State Fair, and I immediately blew my earnings at a tent near the stage that was filled with rhythm instruments from around the world. Oh, guess I forgot to list those above! I have baskets of them.

This lifelong love affair with music began the day that my mother brought home a very small toy electric organ, all of 2 octaves, with numbered keys and a songbook to match. It was like unlocking a code. I had already been in the habit of gravitating toward any piano in sight (alas our house was instrument free at this point), the neighbors of my grandparents in Chapel Hill were happy to let my plunk away for hours on end, and work out the tune to simple songs - "On Top of Old Smoky", "Twinkle Twinkle", "Chopsticks", and so on. It wasn't so much "playing by ear", although as I worked at it I did develop some skill in that arena, as trial and error. As I spent long hours doing this, I did begin to develop an intuitive feel for notes, scales, and more.

But now, here in our own house, was a "real" organ! And the sounds it made were magical, because it included buttons that would play a chord, and of course with the wondrous, easy-to-read music that was included, I could make sounds like I'd never done before. I began to collect music whenever and wherever I could, and would run to my mother asking her to help me unlock those parts that were not obvious - accidentals, and the ultimate magic of understanding how rhythm was coded. After years of lobbying we finally got our very own spinet, and there was no stopping me. On my own, I discovered the Circle of Fifths, the various types of scales and their relationships to one another, and was heavily drawn to the genius of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin above the simple folk and nursery songs I'd started with. Somewhere along the way guitars caught my eye, once again starting with begged and borrowed instruments, and so my musical adventure broadened further.

So when I heard that the Schoenhut Toy Piano Company was looking for a kid who wanted to help them give away 100 My First Pianos, I knew that I wanted to be part of this. I understand the power of music. I know that even a small toy piano, keyboard, or other instruments can give children a lifetime gift of awe and joy that comes from making their own music.

So I added my own challenge to their challenge: If a Colorado kid wins the contest, PlayFair Toys will donate 2 Schoenhut Toy Grands and award the winner a $100 gift certificate to spend at PlayFair Toys. Read all about the contest, which ends June 15, 2009, and my challenge here.

Never underestimate the power of the right toy at the right time. It's now well established that children who have certain types of music education in early childhood have better math skills than those who do not. I think that is all fine and good, I am pretty darn decent at math myself, but fundamentally, to me, music is about joy. So whether you wish to help spread some joy around, improve math skills, or simply help kids in need get a very fun toy, I urge you to spread the word about this exciting challenge. Please spread the links about this challenge to anyone who may wish to know about it. The contest is simple to enter and runs for a very short time.

Here's to music for everyone!

Professor PlayFair