Monday, March 16, 2009

#88 Keys: Quitting Piano Lessons

For Indians there are many traditional rites of passage such as the annaprasan, the thread ceremony for those fortunate enough to be Brahmin, and the big, fat, monsoon wedding. There are also, however, several informal milestones of youth and adolescence that Indians share. There's karate class on Saturday mornings, swimming lessons to get into Flying Fish at the YMCA, the dreaded Friday night Bharatnatyam class that prevented attendance at any fourth grade sleep over and, of course, that universal tribulation of every Indian growing up, taking and subsequently quitting piano lessons.

While growing up, Indians have two options for learning a musical instrument. Either violin, or piano. These can be supplemented with an additional instrument, of course, as long as that instrument is either a flute, clarinet or cello. As a matter of course, most Indians will pretend to take interest in the tabla at the age of 14, around the same time they start seriously considering Hinduism as a lifestyle, dabbling in vegetarianism and listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan records at Borders coffee shops.

As sure as every Indian must at some point take piano lessons, he or she must also go through the uncomfortable process of quitting. Usually, parents are the last one to know their child has quit piano lessons. Even the teacher will know, watching the kid sit through rehearsal awkwardly trying to play through a song, pretending like he'd practiced. He didn't. Check his theory book. It's empty, and if it's not, he hastily filled in the triads with a pencil in the waiting room while going through the Hidden Picture Puzzle in Highlights Magazine.

Though many parents are strict and often impose their will on their children to do what they themselves could never do, there is a chink in the Indian parents' armor that, when exploited, forces them to choose between the lesser of two evils when it comes to the upbringing of their kids. That is, the fundamental trade-off between heavily regimented free-time for college applications, and good enough grades and PSAT scores for college applications. To successfully quit piano lessons, all an Indian kid has to do is cry a little and say, "But quitting piano lessons will give me more time to shtuuuudy." Done.

Parents will immediately cancel the payments to the teacher and remove the kid from piano lessons. Over the years they will realize their mistake as they watch their child try to teach themselves the guitar, dabble in marijuana, underachieve through school, go to a public university, drop pre-med sophomore year and major in Youtube.


ZenDenizen said...

I actually ASKED for piano lessons thinking I'd get to wear one of those cool key-tars that were all the rage in 80s videos but like any good Indian kid, I quit a couple of years later.

P.A. said...

Great blog.
I think to learn to play a musical instrument such as piano is part of every culture.

Julian Kross said...

"there is a chink in the Indian parents' armor" is a disturbing point I think many of your readers missed. If the hood is down and only skin tone is visible a chink could very well pass as an Indian parent.

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Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to have indian parents who appreciated music. At one point my dad said you should come up with a hit song so you don't have to work or even finish college. We once made an electronic drum set and he was always supportive of my passion. I now play drums, guitar, and piano.

BUT you're right most indian parents don't stray from the course. Piano hobby, doctor or lawyer, and of course a nice indian girl.

b said...

I wasn't allowed to quit until I moved out for university

But at least I managed to move out BEFORE getting married!

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Anonymous said...

I just read a couple of your blogs and about the piano thing I never actually thought that was true lol I had a dad who loves his music and grandpa played the tablas ect, so when i asked for a Guitar my dad was happy that I was also taking an interest in music. I haven't quit though I like playing the guitar

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