Latch-Key Piano

It was a long day at school. I was tired and cranky all day long, I'm sad to report. I guess we all have those days. Anyway, when school ended, I was ready to go home and sleep for an hour or so ... but there was a volleyball game scheduled for 4:30. Sigh. I love going to the volleyball games, but I just felt beat today.

It was only 3:45, so I had 45 minutes to kill. I thought about finding a stack of homework to grade and started down the hall toward my car for my portable file cabinet. I was walking past the cafeteria when I got another idea.

See, after school each day, the cafeteria is home to the "latch-key" program for little kids whose parents work. Also in the cafeteria is the most god-awful out-of-tune piano with sticky keys and no bench. I've plinked and plunked a few notes on it (couldn't resist!), but the sound quality wasn't quite enough to keep me coming back for more.

But today ... today I saw that rickety old piano pushed up against the wall and thought, "That's was I need. A good, loud piano-banging session."

"Mind if I play that piano?" I asked the harried-looking latch-key lady.

"Sure, go ahead," she said as she frantically blocked a hyperactive five-year-old from impaling himself on another kid's pencil.

So I walked over to the piano and drug up a cafeteria chair. The chair was too low, so I stacked another chair on top of it and sat down. I grimaced and started to play.

Funny how even a bad piano can sound good when you really need it to. I played a few lines of some simple, soothing songs, then looked up to notice about six first-graders crowded around me. I stopped, and they ... clapped.

Well, ye olde Waterfall loves an audience, so when they asked me to "play something fast," I couldn't help but oblige. I launched into "Maple Leaf Rag" and could hear the kids squealing behind me. There's a mirror behind the piano and I could see them dancing all kinds of crazy jigs. When I finished that one, they yelled, "Play another one, play another one!" So I played a fun, ragtimey version of "You Are My Sunshine," and then "They All Ax For You."

"Play another one, play another one!"

Do these kids ever run out of energy? They jumped and danced, and I played and played. My hands were aching. (Those of you who play piano: imagine playing "Maple Leaf Rag" through, three times, at a "fast" tempo, after not seriously practicing for several months ...)

Hm, what other "fast songs" do I know? Oh, why not ...

So I played "Juba Dance" (the Dett), faster than I'm supposed to, but probably not as fast as it's supposed to be played. It was sloppy, but on that piano, and with that audience ... who cared? It was fun and lively and the kids loved it. I think I played it for them three times.

If you're familar with "Juba Dance," then you know that three times of this piece on a poor, out-of-tune piano is no symphony to the ears. Cacophony would be the more accurate term, I believe.

But it was fun. My spirits were lifted. The kids had a blast. The latch-key lady later thanked me and said it was the least stressful latch-key day she'd had.

Before I left, I played through a few verses of "Alleluia," another easy, slow piece that we sometimes play at church. It was a fitting way to end my piano session. That piano wasn't such a disappointment after all.


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