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A beginner again


Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
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I recently started fooling around with a keyboard. I say “fooling around” because it would not be fair to say that I’m playing music, or anything that even vaguely recalls music, except when I deftly push the demo button and crank out selections from “Ave Maria” to “Camptown Races.”

I have this notion that it would be nice to play the piano someday. But it did not take me long to figure out how far away someday is. Like the golfers I see daily, I am a rookie again, and it makes me remember how difficult it can be to learn a new skill.

The pressure was on to start using my keyboard because I have a personal rule when it comes to material possessions, the One Year Rule. If I don’t use something I own for a year, I have to give it to someone who will. (This doesn’t really apply to the rack of putters and woods in my basement, because those are classified as emergency items).

Since I was given the keyboard for Christmas last year, the recent holidays meant I had to let my nimble fingers tickle the dust off the old ivories, or else pass the keyboard off to someone who lost theirs in the storm-stricken Gulf States.

I’m glad I did not do that. Somebody would have thought it was a cruel joke. There’s something wrong with the thing. That keyboard produces the most discordant and mismatched noises. And even though hammering out a go-go beat on the kitchen sink is the extent of my musical career so far, I’m quite sure I have a good ear and a set of magic phalanges.

And yet, when I sit at the keyboard with my hands and elbows and posture just so, like the beginner tutorial showed me, I seem to play with all the subtlety of a wounded wildebeest. And that might be the best way to describe the sound, too. I haven’t seen my cat in three weeks. The plants are growing away from the keyboard. I’m thinking maybe I could copyright this stuff and sell it to the Defense Department; there’s got to be some practical use in the War on Terror, and it’s slightly less messy than chemical weapons.

Actually, it’s not that bad. I can’t play the notes fast enough to sound bad. When I venture into the tangled jungle of chords, I have to hold the first one for half of eternity while my brain figures out where my fingers are going next. It’s like a cross between a geriatric footrace and a suspense film. Will that guy ever make it to the next chord? Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion of G major.

But the truth is that I love it. It’s not bad being a beginner again. Now I can sit in church and try to see how the written music in the hymnbook matches what the organist and the voices are doing, which I can’t. That would be like carrying on an adult conversation in Spanish when all you know is ola and cerveza.

But I’m learning. Slowly. Chaos theory predicts that a monkey pounding on a piano will eventually play Beethoven. I think the monkey will get there before me. But that’s all right. I’ve learned that it’s as much about the journey as the destination. And in the meantime, there are no rodents or pests within nine blocks of my house.

So I am a beginner again. It makes me appreciate what my students, many of whom are just taking up golf, go through. Last week Robert showed up at the driving range to start his golf career. He is in his last semester of college, and he realized how important golf is in the fields of business and law, where he might soon find himself.

Robert was a little nervous when it was time to hit a few shots, and it got worse when he realized it was the men’s and ladies’ college team members practicing all around him. Nobody wants to look like a fool in front of his peers. But Robert got started with a little encouragement from the teacher, and I think he will really enjoy the game, and do just fine at learning it.

Learning golf is a definite challenge. Hitting that stupid ball anywhere near a target, or in the air for that matter, is hard to do. We look foolish when we get started. It hurts our pride, and our hands, and our backs. It strips us of our delusions of supernatural athleticism. It can be expensive. And time consuming. There are so many reasons to not even bother; and yet so many reasons to suck it up and get the journey started.

As a teaching professional in something as tricky as golf, I’d be a hypocrite if I did not understand the importance of getting help with my piano playing. I just need to find the time, and the extra money. And maybe I’ll practice for a year so it seems like I’m a natural when I start my lessons. Maybe two years.



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