My Musical Family - Joy Riggs

Syndicate content
A blog about my family's adventures in making and appreciating music.
Updated: 32 min 29 sec ago

The Return of the Piano Man

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 11:07am
The most exciting musical development at our house over the past several months has been Elias' renewed interest in playing the piano. We have La La Land to thank for it. Turns out, Ryan Gosling didn't just save jazz (if you didn't catch Gosling's monologue last fall on Saturday Night Live, you can watch it here). He also inspired Elias' return to the piano bench, through his portrayal of fictional jazz pianist Sebastian (the character happens to share a name with my other son).

Elias, 17, with his Christmas 2017 gift from Nana and Poppa Riggs.Elias started taking piano lessons in first grade from the wonderful DeWayne Wee, who also taught Louisa and Sebastian for several years. Elias has natural talent (inherited from his great-great grandmother Islea, perhaps?) and he possesses the long, dextrous fingers needed to manage those octaves. But during his middle school years he grew increasingly frustrated with the practicing part of playing the piano—not an unusual situation for most kids.

Elias in August 2013, playing the piano in front of Cafe Latte in St. Paul.

When he asked to take a break from lessons at the end of eighth grade, I acquiesced, hoping he'd decide on his own to take up the piano again someday.

Months passed. He became busy with other activities, and the piano mostly stayed silent. Then, one night last winter, Steve and I watched La La Land while Elias was out with friends. When he came home, we discovered that he'd also wanted to see the movie, so we watched it a second time with him, and something clicked.

A few months later, Elias asked Steve if he would buy him the piano music for the movie. Steve ordered it through our friendly local bookstore (thanks, Content!), and once it arrived, Elias began sitting at the piano every day, working on the song "Engagement Party" until he'd mastered and memorized it. He moved on to other songs in the book, and soon he was digging into his old piano books, and old piano books of mine.

At first he preferred to practice when no one else was around. He would sneak in practice sessions when I was out getting groceries, or when I took the dog for a walk. Whenever I was lucky enough to hear him play, it made me smile. I tried to encourage him without making too big a deal out of it, not wanting to jinx it.

My stealthy video of Elias practicing in November 2017.I also secretly recorded him a few times and sent the videos to my parents, who were thrilled with this musical development. Although my dad is more known for his trumpet playing, he took many years of piano lessons and has continued to play throughout his life. Dad has the ability I wish I had—he can sit down at the piano, read a piece cold, and play it as though he's been practicing it for weeks.

Elias began watching YouTube videos of pianists performing challenging pieces, and he became less hesitant to practice with other people in the house. Now he will sometimes sit down and work on a particularly challenging section of a piece, over and over and over until he gets it right, and his patience amazes and inspires me.

Earlier this fall, after Steve, Elias, and I went to see the Minnesota Orchestra perform the music to La La Land during a showing of the movie, Elias came to us with another request. Could we take him to a prestigious piano festival in the spring? Turns out the Gilmore Keyboard Festival is held every other year in, wouldn't you know it, Kalamazoo, Michigan—the same city where Sebastian attends college. Steve, who loves to plan trips, was immediately sold on the idea, and last night, when concert tickets went on sale at midnight, he was ready. We are now set to attend four of the festival concerts in late April.

I don't know where Elias' interests will take him next, but I'm eager to find out. If Ryan Gosling continues to have any influence on Elias, it could be an interesting fall. Gosling's next movie, set to open in October, when Elias turns 18, is called First Man and is about the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
Categories: Citizens