The Sheet Music

Your parents make you take the lessons. You’re learning piano. It’s boring. It’s not beautiful. Your parents add pennies to a basket each time you practice. They think money motivates.

You learn vocabulary like treble clef and F sharp and ritardando. You learn quarter note and how to say “blueberry” when you play triplets. You do drills with clever titles, “Uptown” when your fingers move to the high notes and “Downtown” when your fingers move to the low notes.

You keep to this routine of weekly lessons and daily practice because it’s what you’re supposed to do.

You hear a song on the radio. It starts with a piano solo. It is beautiful. It is called, “Open Arms” by Journey. The lines “Hoping you’ll see, what your love means to me” make you think of how Danny smiled at you on the way to English 9. Maybe he could see how much you adore him. You hear the way the piano supports the melodies sung by Steve Perry, how the electric guitar echoes the piano. You love this song.

Your piano teacher presents you with sheet music, an arrangement of “Open Arms.” And you’re surprised you know enough music to play it. You sight read the opening sequence, an easier version with simple chords, but still, it sounds a lot like the song on the radio. Playing that song makes you happy. So happy your mom doesn’t have to beg you to practice.

You crave time at the piano. You learn not just about playing notes but how to interpret music. You try on pianissimo and crescendo. You like growing louder as you bridge from each verse to the chorus.

Once you know the piano part, you sing the song. Your family tolerates every whole note as you belt out “Cooomme to yoooou with ooopen arrrrms.” You imagine what it must feel like to play the piano for thousands while Steve Perry and you sing together. You start to love this instrument that arrived at your home without your permission. All the fussing about practicing and getting better and appreciating piano as you get older starts to make sense. But you only play this sheet music. You neglect the theory books. And the classical piece, the “Adagio in A” or whatever it’s called. That’s boring.

You’re still a kid. You have not mastered the things adults try to teach you. But you’re old enough to understand “Softly you whisper. You’re so sincere.” You’re old enough to pretend what love must be like. You imagine dancing with Danny to this song at the homecoming dance. You imagine finding him on your doorstep each time you sing, “Now that you’ve come back, turned night into day. I need you to stay.” You understand longing. And wishing.

When you’re grown, your mother brings you the yellowed sheet music mixed in a box of books from all those years and years of lessons. You go to the piano, moved from your parents’ home to yours, to play “Open Arms” once again. This time you don’t sing. You’re too shy and too realistic about your talents to do such a crazy thing.

You play the opening sequence. You hear Steve Perry’s tenor in your mind. Danny is long gone from your life and your memory. Other men have held your hand, made you promises. Words like “We sailed on together and drifted apart, and here, you are by my side” are stories you now carry and could have written. You know heartbreak. You know the surrender when you open your arms to love someone else.

You’re still the kid who needs to practice. Yet the song keeps speaking to you like it always did.


Inspired by the letter O as part of the A-to-Z Challenge for the month of April.

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10 thoughts on “The Sheet Music

  1. I really liked this post. I struggled through guitar lessons as a kid until I found one song I loved, and then I practiced that one over and over.


    • Thanks, Marcy. I hope you found overall success with the guitar. I purchased a guitar for my daughter and thought it’d be fun for her and I to learn together but surprise! It is physically more demanding than it looks. Guitar players make it look so easy.


  2. I adored this post. See, I was a piano teacher for about six years. This after a childhood of hating the piano, quitting at ten, then picking it back up at fourteen because I really wanted to learn to play Fur Elise. Then the Moonlight Sonata. Then Pathetique. Then show tunes for choir and theatre.
    The rest is history.
    What a lovely expression of your relationship with the instrument.


  3. Ah what a beautifully written post, and so many can relate i think! I took flute lessons as a kid and went through almost the same thing.. Well done!


  4. While I got a pass from my parents on the piano lessons, I can certainly relate to how the words of a song and their meaning change over time. I often chuckle when I hear love ballads from my teens and remember the crushes they were tied to at the time. Great post!


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