A regret that took four decades to hit home

I was never going to be like global superstar Lang Lang, but I regret not at least learning to read music properly.
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I was never going to be like global superstar Lang Lang, but I regret not at least learning to read music properly.

It took 42 years, give or take a couple of months, for my Dad's prediction to fully come true.

Not that its accuracy hadn't occurred to me in the intervening years, because it had. And always in the form of a little jab in the gut, a pang, whenever I'd seen someone with the skill I had effectively turned my back on in full flight.

"You'll regret it," he'd said to me, endlessly, each time stressing that he was speaking from experience.

But when you're 8, it's hard to take that sort of projection on board. There's fun to be had, an imagination to explore the boundaries of. Sitting inside at a piano for half an hour each day, even when it's clear you're getting better, is not necessarily an enticing proposition.

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So I went through with it. I quit the piano lessons I'd been doing for about a year, and didn't think too much about it as life started to get a lot busier, despite Dad's ongoing warnings about how I'd feel later on.

There were occasions when we talked about the possibility of revisiting my decision. One, I remember, happened in his car when I must have been 12 or 13.

An ad for a brand of coffee on South African radio at the time used what I would later discover was a snippet from the early bars of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1. That helped make its point about the brew's alleged richness and smoothness.

If the title of one of that great Russian composer's finest works doesn't ring a bell, find it on YouTube. I can almost guarantee you've heard its opening sequence at some point, and would agree it's both rich and smooth. I challenge you not to close your eyes and 'air conduct' through those opening bars.

Anyway, that ad came on as we drove into Johannesburg, and we both commented on the music, Dad talking about the beauty of the piano component and me responding, in the emotion of the situation, that maybe it was time I returned to lessons.

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He was delighted, and I was deadly serious, but I have no clear recollection of why it never happened from there. It may just have been too difficult to fit into an already packed schedule in my early high school days.

I've since flirted a couple of times with learning to play a musical instrument. I tried the guitar, and that was going well, but ground to a halt when a folder of music went missing during a move. The guitar was subsequently sold ahead of a bigger move, to New Zealand.

There's also a baritone ukulele in a wardrobe somewhere, which I got into playing five or six years ago, but haven't picked up since doing an item for an office Christmas party with a group of colleagues. I've long wanted to get back to it, but nothing has compelled me.

Two of those colleagues - friends, more importantly - though, have played unwitting roles in the full realisation of my musical regret in the last couple of months.

One, possessed of a wonderful singing voice, sadly went and left Timaru, at least temporarily. The upside was that at her farewell 'function', a surprise karaoke session was organised, and I discovered, belatedly, that, like her, I loved it.

I managed to sing with her without feeling too shown up, but it was a turn behind the mic with another colleague that ironically injected itself into this column's narrative. There was something only half-serious about two blokes getting up to sing "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", but somehow a video of the performance 'leaked' onto the internet and I got an email from the other aforementioned friend.

She's been a member for some time of a choir, the Rhyth-Mix Singers, that sings mainly middle of the road stuff, and let me know they were looking for new members if I was interested.

So I got along to an open night and have been back for a few more weeks, trying to learn the tenor parts to a series of songs.

And that's where my regret has really kicked in. Not specifically at not being able to play the piano, but at not being able to read music. I just know it would be so much easier to follow the parts I'm learning if I could. And there's an audition looming on May 1. Scary stuff (just a little).

Fortunately, there are some superb voices alongside me, and I'm getting the hang of it by repetition, but there are definitely times when I feel hamstrung. At the last audition, one of my fellow tenors, who I'd been following during a piece new to me, told me he'd been getting a bit mixed up himself and asked if I played the piano. That would have enabled me to learn the parts myself, at home. But sadly, no. I wish eight-year-old me had listened, Dad.

It doesn't end there, though, because the next day, out of the blue, I got an email from my choir 'neighbour'. Attached were three audio files, of the tenor parts from the song in question played on the piano.

It was an extraordinary act of thoughtfulness, which I hope I can repay by perfecting those parts before 'Mayday'. My regret is real, but fortunately it doesn't have to be the end of my musical enjoyment.

 - Stuff

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