The Devil Piano
Baptists* are notorious for those “call downs” at the end of each service to strongly encourage those who feel they are ready for the next step in embracing the Christian faith. It was comical, how much they made the pastor look like Bob Barker on “Price is Right” and the call itself a “come on down!” as if you didn’t, you risked losing that red convertible or that trip to Baja. People who have personally met Bob Barker tell me that he’s not a nice man, and like Bob Barker, the “call down” has its sinister side in its implication that if you didn’t “come down” you were just a sorry excuse of a voyeuristic sinner.
They (the churches I have been to at least) were very good at doing that, making the average church goer feel dirty at the end. Far from religious. This disillusionment started when I began listening to the words–words that spoke of right and wrong and faith that more often than not, strayed into a lecture. I am not a criminal who broke all ten commandments and neither do I care for the metaphysical claptrap interspersed in between that is more confusing than enlightening. And the hymns, beautiful as they are, have been twisted to suit those attention-seeking divas, pulling on your heart like a leash, leading you to the altar.
I missed the time when the only thing I understood was the music. When I was four years old, the strange smelling ladies from church dressed me up in a white frock with a dark red collar. Apparently I had been volunteered up for the children’s choir by my mother. I was the smallest, so I stood at the end of the line, next to the church organ. The first time the choir performed, what I sang did not matter, because when the organist placed his hands on the keyboard and his feet danced on the pedals below, a roar blasted from the pipes in the wall behind me, deafening. The pastor, cloaked in red and black, stood in a visible alcove behind the choir and his face was devoid of all expression. He pushed someone dressed in white down and there was the rustling of water. The initiate struggled up, red in the face, gasping, wet.
And something went through me then, not awe or wonder, but fear. The pastor acted as if something had taken over him–that wet young man could have drowned! And with the echoing notes of the organ, I began to believe that the instrument was the source of power, that God must be acting through the organ. And the man who manipulated the keys and buttons, the organist controlled all of it.
I wanted to play the organ.
It’s too big**. Your feet will never reach the pedals.
The organist also played the piano. And they were similar enough that I figured, if I knew how to play the piano, I would also know how to play the organ. I begged my parents for piano lessons. My mother thought it was a good idea, thinking that I might actually be good at it if I started early enough (she herself had taken a year of piano lessons when she was a teenager–apparently too late to be of any use) and convinced a piano teacher to take me on despite her early protests that I was too young.
My first piano teacher was a pleasant old woman with infinite amount of patience. I learned the notes, how to read music, fingerings. But what fascinated me were the two electric organs in her studio. When would I learn how to play that? Occasionally, I would see the teacher’s husband, a hoary bent-backed man coming in after my lesson (or going out before) to prepare for his own students. He taught the organ. But at the moment, I was simply plucking out “Twinkle, Twinkle” and thought, maybe if I became good enough, he would be my teacher.
The pastor of the church was moving away at the same time. What a fortunate turn of events! He needed to get rid of his piano; I need one to practice on. My parents took me to his house and I got a good look at it. Unlike the black grand piano in church, this was an upright piano. And it was dark red. The cover and supporting legs were intricately carved with flourishes that looked like flames. And were those faces peeking out from behind, wide-eyed and frightened? It was love at first sight.
The first songs I ever learned were practiced on this piano. Every time I touched the keys, I imagined that these faces started to smile. For the recital, I listened to the more advanced players and learned, there is music out there, more beautiful than those hymns pounded out with such ferociousness every Sunday morning on the organ. When I played my piece, I garnered applause instead of half-drowned men. I realized then what sort of control really mattered.
*Obviously, not all Baptists are rabid evangelists. Nonetheless, I feel the whole situation is about control and not about faith.
**Strangely enough, it was the same case with my secondary instrument, the cello. I wanted to play the bass, but it was too big (it’s still probably too big for me). I must have a fetish on size.
Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com. I am 41% geek, far less than what I proclaim myself to be. Here is what it says:
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.
Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.
You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You’ll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!
Geek [to You]: I’m givin’ her all she’s got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!
You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.