The piece ended. The door opened. A young girl of 9 or 10 stepped out. Up in piano heaven, Vladimir Horowitz and Bud Powell laughed uproariously at this perfectly timed reality check. An hour later I emerged from class. I had been introduced to middle C, the bass and treble clefs, the rudiments of playing with both hands. It will be a long time before I play Chopin.
I practice regularly, often in the mornings. When the practice is good, time dissolves. I find sanctuary at the keyboard. There is room for me, the piano and the music. The troubles and concerns of work and family are put aside. This is one of the delightful surprises in playing.
"When I come home at night and I've had a pretty hectic day, I sit down at the piano," says Mr. Adams. "You're looking for something to take you out of your day. It could be a martini. I have trouble recovering from a martini. So what I do is play. I bet you if I had a blood-pressure gauge hooked up to my arm, you could watch the needle drop."
But you have to find a piece that speaks to you and that you can play. Struggling through a piece you don't like and can't play is awful. Too many children suffered that pain and fled the piano with all deliberate speed. More than once I've staged a coup d'etat with my teacher, abandoning a Chopin prelude in A major for a romanza by Mozart. The successful piece becomes a magnet, drawing you back to the keyboard.
"If I was visiting somebody's house and there was a piano there, I didn't care what the conversation was, I just wanted things to stop. I wanted to go over and play the piano," says Mr. Adams.
The addiction feeds itself. In most cases, the more you put in, the better you get. Soon, your playing begins to please. You hear something approaching beauty. Why not share it?
"I know some adults who don't play for anybody. And I can't figure that out. I feel sorry for them," says Mr. Adams. "I know it's hard, but I think you ought to try."
Unless you have ice water in your veins, playing for someone -- teacher, spouse, friend -- can be unnerving. I've heard of people whose minds went totally blank at their recitals. I've been so nervous it seemed my eyes were about to explode as my fingers shook on the keyboard. Early on, I held my breath for the entire piece.
Pros on foreign ground
Often, adult beginners have the added problem of being accomplished professionals who find themselves on foreign ground. Forget the suit and tie, the power lunches, the Donna Karan blazer. None of that matters at the keyboard. We're all children again, struggling with nursery rhymes. "This Old Man" may as well be Beethoven's "Hammerklavier Sonata."
Yet, that is part of the joy. After decades of seeing the world's ups and downs, its successes and disappointments, we return to innocence.
Mr. Adams says the next stop on his musical journey will be an excursion into Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words." Then, in a year or two, blues and jazz improvisations. Who knows how far he'll go?
You just start playing, practicing, knowing that whoever you have in the piano pantheon, jazz great Art Tatum or classical pianist Artur Schnabel, followed a similar path whose end is not in perfection. The journey itself is enough.
As for me, I'll concede that I am an old dog, but I am learning a new trick.
Next on the keyboard, a Sonatina in C by Joseph Haydn.
Pub Date: 4/08/96