Friday, September 19, 2008

"A mazurka is a Polish Dance"

At the Independent, Janice Galloway has a lovely 'book of a lifetime' piece:
When I was 11, the family, against every calculable odd, acquired a second-hand upright piano. It was a nice piece of furniture, but my mother saw the main drawback within minutes: somebody would want to play it. And that means money for lessons. The somebody, of course, was me. I'd seen Liberace on TV and I wanted, passionately, to play.

Miss Hughes, who lived in the sheltered flats at Guthrie Brae, was too old to take on pupils but, presumably in need of the money, took me on anyway. And that was when we acquired it: the John W Schaum Piano Course, Book A (The Red Book) Leading to Mastery of the Instrument in Easy Steps. Despite the seven bob (35p) price-tag, my mother bought it.

The book had a red baby grand on the cover; its first page was blank with an instruction to draw around your own hands and number the fingers, one to five. A flick through the rest showed tests, tips and interesting facts ("A mazurka is a Polish Dance") and – joy! – little drawings with each eight-bar tune to colour in, once the piece had been learned. I remember in particular the welcome page from Mr Schaum, an American stranger, wishing me, some anonymous Scottish nobody, "Good Luck and years of happy playing!" because it moved me to tears.

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