Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Of Wunderkind

When I was a child of about seven I attempted to decipher my father's piano sheet music.

I took a book aside and began doodling the notes over a blank piece of paper. I had only the vaguest idea that the location of the notes across the staff had any meaning. There were so many piano keys, I ignored the frighteningly long, straight lines and hoped against all hope that I was correct in thinking they were pointless embellishments.

Finished, I proudly presented my original piece to my father. You see, my father had always hoped I would play the piano. In fact he spent several thousand dollars on a mahogany grand piano when I was still in utero. As much as I despised the too-large, too-many-keyed monstrosity that sat in the living room, I also made it no secret that I enjoyed the notion of finding a natural gift for something, so wouldn't it be lovely if I turned out to be the reincarnation of Mozart?

Rather than dash my hopes outright, my father took a softer approach, however not in exactly the best way possible. Instead of explaining that the note tails denote duration and the vertical staggering pitch, my father sat down at the piano and proceeded to play something incomprehensible from memory. For several minutes.

Several minutes in which I believed I had through simply looking at sheet music for the first time reverse engineered Western music notation and by instinct created a haunting melody. My confusion was profound. How would my life change now, knowing that while my work might not be good, the possibility of randomly creating a harmonizing piece was unlikely, even if I were only the conduit for the output from an infinite universe of monkeys pounding on harpsichords, I should be out of school. I should be touring the world. I didn't even like piano, but perhaps that was only because I had lived a full life as a virtuoso, and despite being sick of the instrument I retained a lifetime's worth of innate knowledge and talent.

When he finished, I asked my father if that was really the piece I wrote. He looked at me at first blankly, then again with disbelief and finally with disappointment that I did not get the joke.

"Of course not," he said.

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