Most evenings, for a little while at least, the sound of piano music drifts through our house. The songs are simple, but they make me smile. Because, for the first time in a very long time, someone besides me is making real music at the piano.
Dan started piano lessons this fall. His piano teacher and school offer a great service - starting in third grade, students can take piano during the school day. As long as Dan is not behind with his schoolwork, he leaves class for 30 minutes on Wednesdays for his piano lesson.
I was positively thrilled with this arrangement. Dan, however, was not. When I told him his first piano lesson would be tomorrow, he said he didn't want to take piano lessons. I matter-of-factly replied that for our family, piano lessons are non-negotiable. Just like everyone will take swimming lessons and learn to swim, everyone will learn to play piano. I took piano lessons for years and still play. Glen took piano lessons, too.
When Dan continued to yummer, I explained that playing piano would make him better at math and Minecraft. "How?" he asked, intrigued. Luckily, I had just diagramed neuron pathways for Dan a week earlier during an explanation of how we learn to do things - everything from riding a bike to multiplication - and why practice is necessary. I told Dan that learning to play piano makes those neuron pathways stronger. Learning to play piano positively affects the brain in multiple other ways, too, but my brief explanation was enough for Dan.
Dan had a couple moments of frustration after he started his lessons, but for the most part, his attitude toward piano has been positive. I haven't had to remind him more than once to practice (and that's a heck of a lot better than his chore reminders).
A couple weeks ago, Dan started bringing Christmas songs home. First, Jingle Bells, then Good King Wenceslas, and a couple more after those two. As Dan learned the songs, something happened that made my heart well up with joy: he started sitting down at the piano to play on his own - without me reminding him.
Then Dan started reminding me that we really needed to get the piano fixed. Our piano is a hand-me-down from my aunt and uncle; it's been moved several times since we got it; and it hasn't been tuned since. So, not only was it out of tune, but it had several sticky keys. One of those sticky keys was the G below middle C, which was an important note in several of Dan's Christmas songs.
So, I finally called the piano tuner recommended by Dan's piano teacher. He was able to fit us into his schedule right away, but he told me over the phone that he didn't repair sticky keys, he only tuned. But he would be happy to take a look at the piano and diagnose what repairs would be needed.
Mr. Piano Tuner arrived, I showed him to the piano, and then told him I needed to keep working on my chores outside. He said it would take 15 minutes to diagnose the problems with the sticky keys. I headed back to the house 15 minutes later, fingers crossed, hoping against hope that any necessary repairs would be minor. When I stepped inside I could hear that tuning was underway. That must be a good sign, I thought.
I asked Mr. Tuner for the diagnosis and he said there was no need for repairs. Then, why the sticky keys? He pointed to a small pile on the chair next to the piano. In the pile were two puzzle pieces, a nickel, a dime, a small flat Christmas ornament, and a couple of small blue game pieces. The contents of the pile were all found stuck between the keys (out of sight, under the fallboard). Once the miscellaneous pieces were removed, the keys worked perfectly. So now we have a fully functioning, perfectly tuned piano, and I learned an important lesson for fixing future sticky keys.
With the piano working properly, Dan was able to refine his Christmas songs for his first recital. The recital was held last weekend at the retirement home in town. It was so heartwarming to see the residents of the home enjoying the music. For me, it also brought back a flood of memories. My mother worked at a nursing home for most of my school years; my sisters and I often spent a day of our Christmas vacation at the home, playing songs on the piano for the residents.
Afterward, I was reminded that playing piano is as much a gift to ourselves as it is a gift to others.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 8, Monika, 6, and Daphne, 2. Sadie also writes a blog at She can be reached at