They’re not laughing now…

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Have you ever seen this old advertisement?

they-laughed

This implies you just sit down at the piano and start blowing people’s socks off. Well, my story is the reverse: “When I Started to Play, They Laughed!”. Seriously. In fact, in my story the people laughing were Music Professors. Let me provide a little back-story…

Let it be known, I love the piano…

I’ve ALWAYS loved the piano. One of my earliest memories was a toy piano at Nana’s house – you know, the kind Schroeder (from Snoopy) plays. I was maybe 2 or 3, but I was amazed I could create sound using my little fingers. Pure awesomeness.

My first piano was when I was 9. My dad was a printer so for me to ask for a piano was crazy. But I did. I asked and asked. Eventually, my parents DID buy me a piano. A bright-BLUE one… With keys falling apart. Completely out of tune. A real clunker. Cost: $50. And I loved it. Mom & Dad, you’re awesome! (By the way, if your child asks for a piano – get one ASAP)

…But, I had no “piano-playing” gene

I wasn’t blessed with “the force” or have a teacher named Yoda. But, I loved piano. So, for all you aspiring pianists, start where you are, I guaranty you’re no worse than I was. No excuses.

My first teacher ‘Ruth Driscoll’ was a nonagenarian (that means she was pretty old – although not as old as Yoda). My mother swapped Sunday meals for my piano lessons. I was on my way…

My youth… escaping with piano

I was one of the smallest kids in school right up until my ‘growth spurt’ in 11th grade. I got teased and bullied quite a bit. The piano became my escape. Something about it just “felt right”. Time would disappear as I’d sit for hours at my piano writing and improvising. No matter how sad or depressed, I always felt better after some time at the piano.

A “life defining” moment – part 1 

Fairytales end…and you graduate from high school. I was to pursue an Engineering degree at the University of Connecticut while on an ice-hockey scholarship. During my freshman year I got Bacterial Meningitis – went into a coma, was read the “last rites” and almost died. I was in the hospital for almost a month. Scary stuff. It was one of those “defining moments”. Your priorities and life trajectory change. When I finally got out of the hospital I spent several hours sitting in front of my piano, and realized I needed to make a change. Later that year, I applied for transfer to the music department.

And this leads to the crux of the story…about those music professors who laughed at me…

To get “accepted” to the music program, you had to audition. The piece I chose was “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. After what I had been through (and knowing a little about me), this was a logical choice. Great song.

However, it’s not “Bach, Beethoven or Mozart” – which is what the music professors wanted to hear. As I build the piece into the chorus “Like A BRIDGE Over Troubled Water…”

– “AHEM!.… Mr. Girouard…” interrupted one of the professors (giggle, giggle)…“We only accept classical music for entrance into the school of music..” (tee-hee, ha-ha…YEOW HEEE HEE HAWWWW). A story repeated over tea and crumpets to this day, I’m sure.

I was humiliated. I could feel the blood rushing to my face and I’m sure I was close to crying.

A “life defining”  moment – part 2

I think most people probably would have walked out and quit – grab some tissues and leave it at that.

Not me.

I got some classical books from the library, learned the required “classical” repertoire and returned a month later to ace my entrance audition. I got my music degree – even made Deans list.

Following the Muse

I didn’t want to play classical music (even though that’s what was required for my music degree), I wanted to CREATE. So, after college I moved to Italy, traveled Europe writing music on a battery-operated keyboard. When I moved back to the US, I got a job at a Steinway piano store so I could develop “after hours” on their fleet of awesome concert pianos. Through divine fate I met my mentor and ‘maestro’ Craig (once the most requested piano professor at Berklee). Ate a lot of Ramen noodles. Struggled to pay rent. Lived the stereotypical “starving musician” lifestyle and started building my music career. I took whatever gigs I could get – all the while continuing to hone my writing an performing skills.

It took more than 10 years before I would create “The Naked Piano”. Piano had always been my escape – and finally… FINALLY I could share this with the world…

Six Albums Later…and still working hard!

I still love the piano. I’ve sacrificed a lot to get to this point. I’ve put in a lot of hours and a lot of effort – practicing, working, performing. I work harder than anyone I know and am constantly trying to improve.

I now have a wife and kids and realize life sometimes gets messy. Weddings. Births. Funerals. Sickness, Health. Through it all the PIANO has been the one constant – the one thing to bring peace, joy and understanding. It’s where I go to deal with life’s ups and downs. So, “The Naked Piano” has been my attempt to capture the raw emotions and challenges of life, and hopefully provide others with the same relief and inspiration it has given me.

Has it been worth it? You bet!

More important than all of that, it’s YOU that makes it all matter. That’s why I wrote this story! When I hear my music has made a positive difference – the “Naked Piano” has helped ease stress and adversity – well, that’s really powerful stuff. It’s why I continue to play and write and work as hard as I do.

I look forward to many more sometimes hard, sometimes ugly, always worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. I truly hope you are part of that journey and my music can continue to provide calm and inspiration in a crazy world.

Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter. I’m so grateful. 

– Gary

3 Responses

  1. Trevor N
    | Reply

    Thank you for this awesome autobiographical article! I can totally relate to what it was like being a musician in my early years being in band and jamming out but then when I graduated high school I didn’t know what to do. By reading this I feel inspired to put myself out there again and share my talent as a fellow pianist. Thank you again!

  2. Judith Alexandeer
    | Reply

    I’m the kind of person that makes hurried notes for myself on some little thing I’ve seen or heard, for possible later follow-up.
    Typically, by the time I review those cryptic little jotted notes, I’ve forgotten what it was all about and just scratch them out. Such was almost the case when I came across an old note that said simply “Invictus, Gary Girouard.” Remembering my Latin schooling, I was curious to find out who this “unconquerable” individual was, and came across The Naked Piano. Do I listen to a lot of music? Yes, all day long, and mostly classical piano, although I’m by no measure a very good pianist myself. But, having listened intently to Invictus, which lead to a sampling of other of your albums, I’m enthralled, fascinated, and captivated by the serene beauty, sensitivity, and skill of your unique brand of music. Reading your bio, I realize how some of your challenging childhood experiences may have helped contribute to the deeply emotional and, yes, beautifully spiritual, “story line” that moves me in all your pieces. I am extremely grateful that I found music that I can listen to day long and never tire of, and, through grace, have discovered this genre of music from a talented, playful, insightful, and inspired musician. Bravo! Play on!!!

    • pianoxcape
      | Reply

      Thank you Judith – for your kind message and for sharing how you came across my music. So thankful our paths have crossed.
      Best,
      – G

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