Mrs. Johnson and I after my first piano recital – June 15, 1986
You know, when I really sat and thought about it, I had NO idea why my parents decided to get me started with piano lessons. I couldn’t remember if it was to keep me busy with some after school activities or what the original reason was exactly. So tonight, I sent Momma Zo a text asking her about it. Her response was:
“I guess you showed an early interest in music. I had my piano… You present it, stimulate it, and wait to see what happens. …The lessons gave you a good foundation.”
…She may have had a point..
Me at age 2 banging on the piano at home.
It’s safe to say that I was excited about the piano at this age…
Originally, I took lessons with someone else, but I can’t recall much about it at all… All I remember is that I think the lady lived in Oak Park and overall, I don’t think I took lessons there for a long period of time. Momma Zo told me recently via text that…
“The first teacher didn’t want you to leave because you were doing so well!”
So technically, Mrs. Johnson wasn’t my FIRST piano teacher… But it was her teachings that sustained the greatest amount of impact, by far. She was recommended by the mother one of my 1st or 2nd grade classmates – she taught both my classmate and her older brother. Mrs. Johnson’s house was literally right down the street from us – just a block away. If I remember correctly, we used to go every Monday at 4pm. To my parents, this connection was a multiple win for them because her daughter also ended up becoming the babysitter for my younger sister and I.
I’ll admit it… I wasn’t the easiest student to teach simply because I was a kid who found more pleasure in running around the neighborhood with my friends playing sports, freeze tag, and chasing down the ice cream truck whenever it rolled around. Whenever Moms stepped outside that front door to call me inside to practice on the piano, she was usually met with resistance. It always seemed like she had the world’s most impeccable timing because she used to pick the game’s most intense point to yell out… “LORENZOOOO!!!!”
*throws hands up*
“AWWWWWWW MAAAAAAN!!!! Can we get ONE more game in?!!?!!!?”…….
I would go inside the house angry. All of my friends were still outside having a ball, while I’m having to go inside and practice on this ole dumb ass piano. I wasn’t a fan at all. I would head to the basement, sit down in front of the piano and sloppily go through scales, arpeggios, and the songs I needed to learn and memorize for the week. Now, of course, my 6 or 7-year old logic had me thinking I could get away with practicing for what usually turned out to be 10 minutes, walk back upstairs and Moms would just be okay with that. That same young logic also didn’t explain the fact that through the floor and vents in the house she could hear every single thing I was playing and half-assing on……… Needless to say, she wasn’t buying it at all when I would walk back upstairs, walk up to her and say, “I’m finished!” The moment of truth would always come during the weekly lessons at Mrs. Johnson’s house. I can only imagine how embarrassed my mother was when I would sit down at the piano ill-prepared during lesson time. I get it now… I had not a clue back then. Mrs. Johnson had to have been one patient woman with me because I had more of a hate than love relationship with the piano… I mean, shit…. Some of those songs were DIFFICULT. Plus, at the time, my hands weren’t big enough to reach and play octaves as some of the songs and drills called for. So looking back on it… this era served as a ‘boot camp’ for me on the instrument. Mrs. Johnson challenged me and remained patient through all of my episodes of resistance. She would look at me like…’Alright, cry it on out… But when you finish, we’ve got a song to wrap up.” Thank GOD for her persistence and musical education as well as for my parents’ encouragement to continue because…. well…. now, this is how I make a living.
How crazy is that?
Momma Zo could have let me get my way and allowed me to play outside until that street light came on everyday… Mrs. Johnson could have been someone who simply just gave in to my being hard-headed, but instead she pushed me harder. Maybe they knew something even back then, I don’t know… But whatever it was, today I am GRATEFUL. Not only did it impact my musicianship, but I even utilized some of her “I’m not really feeling any of your excuses” practices when I taught music in the classroom and today while teaching private lessons. While we have since lost touch over the years, but it would be dope if somehow she caught wind of this piece just so she could see how successful she was at influencing her sometimes difficult young piano student.
Someone find Mrs. Jacqueline Johnson for me please as I would LOVE to play for her …I think that’s the least I can do.
A copy of the original program from my very first piano recital.