Piano Lessons vs. Sandlot Softball

I had been pestering Daddy for months, and now, here it was, the grandest of birthday gifts — a piano!

The big delivery truck had rounded the corner and was coming down Charles Street toward our apartment building. I watched, delirious with excitement, as the truck pulled to a stop in front of me. The doors banged open and two burly men climbed down. They cast a brief, disinterested eye at me and waited silently for Daddy to approach.

My father, short, stocky, and almost always jovial, walked over to them, a smile on his round face. I followed close behind in order to hear what was said. Nobody paid attention to me, but who cared — I had just turned eleven, the piano was my birthday present, and I wasn’t going to miss a thing. 

After a short discussion with the truckers, Daddy pointed to our first floor corner apartment, explaining that the living room windows faced the street and were to the left of our building’s double doors. Opening those doors, he gestured inside, and said, “Here’s the small foyer, fellas, and the four wide steps going up to the first floor and then a sharp turn to the left and to our apartment.”  His directions sounded complicated. I was afraid the truckers would shake their heads at the impossibility of the task, drive away, and take my piano with them.

The two men walked to the back of the truck and climbed in. Daddy turned toward me. I stood motionless. Was my birthday gift going to disappear forever?

Absolutely not. My piano was here to stay, and with a little help from some neighborhood kibitzers, and lots of heaving and grunting, shoving, pushing, and lifting, it landed in our living room along with the promise of joyous sounds to come.

This piano, my spinet piano, was shiny and black, with wondrous ivory keys that added a final touch to its beauty. Casting a magical light over all, that piano transformed our pedestrian lodgings into a luminous retreat.

Daddy stood in the middle of the living room, his hands in his pockets, cigar in mouth, beaming at me as I ran my fingers over the smooth wood. “You’ll become a good pianist, Sue. I’m sure of that,” he said. “Maybe you’ll even play on stage at Carnegie Hall.”

The “Carnegie Hall” comment scared me. I wanted to play pop hits with my friends, and Broadway tunes with Daddy and my big brother, Stan, right here in my own living room. I did not want to perform on any stage.

My father may have had, at times, a grand imagination but, mostly, he was pragmatic. And so, after six piano lessons, maybe even less, with Mr. Cicero, Daddy saw, finally, what had been immediately clear to everyone else. His glorious ambition for me faded and, instead, was replaced by the more moderate wish to keep me on a piano-playing course, however mediocre that may be.

Alas, even that was hopeless. My fingers were not up to it; neither was my resolve. And Daddy was destined for disappointment. He loved music of every kind and thought he had a child who felt the same. Well, he was right. I loved music, but not the idea of practicing daily for hours at a time. Adding to my astonishment about the practicing requirement, Mr. Cicero’s musical repertoire did not even include Frankie Laine’s Jealousy or Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa.

The astonishment soon became a slow burn. Kindling that flame, my first musical piece, Debussy’s Clair de lune, was given to me only after I had practiced the scales endlessly. Of course, Clair de lune had to be endlessly practiced as well. The writing on the wall was swelling to Wagnerian proportions.

There was another problem with piano lessons, and a seemingly difficult one to surmount. Practicing cut into my after-school free time and another deeply held need of my young life: playing sandlot softball with the neighborhood boys. As the only girl I was marked for the outfield and positioned as far from the action as possible. But it didn’t matter. I was part of the team. Stan, a great athlete and member in good standing of the sandlot team, saw to that. If his baby sister wanted to play, she played.

In short time, then, I saw that piano lessons and sandlot ball were not compatible. One Wednesday afternoon at the beginning of my lesson Mr. Cicero noticed that the little finger on my right hand was swollen. I told him that I hurt it in a softball game, and probably wouldn’t be able to play well for him that day. Yet, despite my proven inability to practice and my increasing lack of interest, Mr. Cicero said that my fingers were too precious to risk damaging and that I must never play ball again.

His demand shocked me and I decided that the entire notion of piano lessons had not been well thought out by any of us. Of course, my father disagreed; he refused to see that the passion with which I had first greeted my piano was gone. I continued taking lessons but soon settled into sporadic and ever-abridged practice sessions.

Sadly, I had no choice in what music I could play, and softball was no longer on my after-school agenda — higher authorities had taken control. But I was determined. I did not give up the ball games. And I would play what I wanted, when I wanted, whether it was the piano or sandlot softball. 

I did continue with piano lessons, for a while. Although it took two years of overly prolonged nagging, I finally prevailed. I quit piano lessons and my weary father accepted, once and for all, that his darling daughter didn’t have the talent nor the desire to play in any concert hall. 

Years later, my beautiful piano was sold and I mourned its loss. Yet, I would never have exchanged the exhilaration of those after-school softball games for anything in the world. As the only girl on the team, I might have been considered a token, an eleven-year-old token at that, but it was an experience of extraordinary proportions for me, an experience not to be missed and never forgotten.


“A spinet piano is a smaller version of a piano. The term  ‘spinet’  is actually used to refer to any smaller version of a larger instrument such as a spinet harpsichord or spinet organ. Spinet pianos were manufactured between the 1930’s and the late 1990’s when they fell out of fashion. The primary reason for the decline of the spinet piano was the inferiority of its sound.”  www.wisegeek.com

 “. . . the inferiority of its sound.”? Oh, how that hurt! Even though I never played well, I thought my piano was superb in every way, including the sound. It depended, of course, on whose hands were playing what.

Editor: Edwin C. Goldstein