If you have seen the John Lewis Christmas advert ‘The Boy and the Piano’ you will know that it features superstar singer-songwriter Elton John and recalls, in heartwarming and poignant scenes, his career from his first hesitant explorations as a little boy at a piano given as a Christmas present to international stardom. It’s touching and inspiring – the scene where his mother proudly watches him perform in a school concert, her eyes filled with tears, is one many of us will identify with.
Of course, the film isn’t really about Elton John at all. It’s about the joy of music, of exploring and playing music, and sharing it with others. The advert perfectly expresses the pleasure of music, the special, private time we experience when playing music, and the excitement of live performance. It’s no accident that the piano features strongly in this film. A piano is a highly accessible instrument, for child or adult. From the very first note, it is possible to create a lovely sound on the piano and it’s a relatively easy instrument to play for the beginner student. A musical experience is a wonderful gift at Christmas – I have had several enquiries from people who want to purchase piano lessons for their children or partner as a Christmas present – and as the John Lewis advert demonstrates, a piano is a really special, inspiring gift, and one that will gives hours and hours of enjoyment and personal fulfilment.
Buying a piano is a big decision and one that should not be undertaken lightly, but while it may feel like a large financial outlay, a piano is a fantastic investment. Unlike cars, pianos do not depreciate and a good quality, well-maintained instrument will retain it value and, more importantly, its sound, for years to come. Chosen with care and with the right advice, a piano will become a much-loved member of the family as well as a musical instrument, and will provide hours and hours of delight and diversion.
My first piano, an early 20th-century Challen upright, was not a Christmas present, but it was a gift from a family friend. It lived in the dining room of our home and I played it almost every day as a child and teenager, practising diligently to progress through all my grade exams. As well as the instrument on which I “leant to be a pianist”, the piano was an opportunity for escapism, to set the imagination free to make up stories, a place for fantasies and adventures. I also played a lot of music on that piano which had not been set by my piano teacher, and, as a consequence, as a teenager I discovered the piano music of Franz Schubert, which remains amongst my most favourite music. Learning music independently of my teacher helped me hone my sight-reading skills and learn how to really “get inside” the music, to reveal its myriad details and complexities, important skills which remain with me to this day. Although I had a 20-year absence from the piano, it has always been important to me, never more so now when my whole life and work revolves around the instrument, its literature, those who play it and those who love it – and by extension music in general and the special pleasures it affords me and fellow music-lovers.
As a piano teacher I have watched my students develop and progress as young pianists and shared in their pleasure and satisfaction. As the co-founder of a popular London-based piano club, I see how much gratification members take from their piano playing and the opportunity to share their music with others. Learning and playing the piano (and indeed any musical instrument) has many benefits: it can improve concentration, develop and strengthen memory, and improve mental and physical co-ordination. It also offers a deep sense of personal achievement, self-fulfilment and, above all, enjoyment.
The pleasure of playing the piano and the joy of music isn’t just for Christmas – it will stay with you for life.
Happy Christmas. Love music and love your piano