Why Study Classical Piano?

Stories from the Bench

Boy Practicing Piano
Marie Dubrac/Amana Images/Getty Images

Piano teachers and music lovers, are always wondering how to make classical music relevant to the younger generation.

Let us not mislead ourselves into thinking that classical music was popular a hundred or so years ago and is now passé because we are no longer dancing minuets and gavottes. Classical music was never popular with the general population.

In the early Twentieth Century, ragtime and blues from New Orleans captured the public’s imagination, to be followed by jazz and the Charleston.

When I was a young student, none of my friends listened to classical music. Few studied an instrument for more than a year or two. They were listening to the big bands and dancing the jitterbug (this is not to imply that I didn’t enjoy singing and dancing to the swing bands too), but my little table radio was always set at our local classical music station, WQXR.

Classical music has always been the “other” music—back then, commonly referred to as “long hair.”

And yet there is something about this great music that has an ineffable, indescribable effect on the human emotions that will not die, if people will just allow themselves to be exposed to its power.

That is why the following story is so relevant to today’s population, and why I tell it to all my teenage students.

At the start of one of our lessons, my student Robert Marsanico told me the following story.

“Mrs. Forte,” he said, “I want to tell you something that happened to me Saturday night.

I went to a sweet sixteen party of one of my classmates and there was quite a crowd of people my age.  And some of the kids were fooling around at the piano, playing pop and stuff.  Then one of the girls I was speaking to suddenly stopped talking, looked at me and said, ‘Robert, you take piano lessons.

Come on, play something!’”

“’No….uh uh….no way, I am not going to play the piano.”  I figured that no one in that room was interested in the kind of music that I could play.

But as I was strongly objecting, I was being pushed by my friends towards the piano, and, as the other kids were cleared off the bench, I was being forcibly sat down.  And there I was, face-to-face with eighty-eight black and white keys, and mortified.”

“What to play? The only thing that came to my mind was what I was playing at home earlier in the day: Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So, I began  with the slow opening. And after two measures I became aware that there was a hush in the room.

“After the next two measures, I felt people moving towards me, and when I got to the melody, the parents came out of the kitchen. 

“I played the whole first movement and when I was through, the applause and cheers were hard to believe.”

“What a story, Robert!! Thank you so much for telling me.”  

“Well the only reason I am telling you, is because if you had told me that this would have happened, I never would have believed you.”

Would I have told Robert that would have happened? Not in a million years. Am I surprised that it did happen?

Not for a minute.

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By Guest Music Education Expert Rhoda Forte, who has taught hundreds of children how to play the piano.