They’re not laughing now…

posted in: Blog 7

they-laughedSeeing as you’re here, I’m guessing you enjoy piano – or maybe even play piano yourself. Let me share a story I think you’ll appreciate – which includes some human weakness, humor and hopefully a little inspiration as well. Certainly it will provide a little perspective for my music, but. ultimately, you’ll see this is a story about YOU…

Take a look at the old black & white advertisement above. It implies you just sit down at the piano and start blowing people’s socks off! Well, my story (and I’m sure most) is quite different. In fact, when I auditioned for Music School, I DID get laughed at – by Music Professors! Let me provide a little back-story…

In the beginning…

Looking back, I realize I’ve always loved the piano. My earliest memory was a toy piano at Nana’s house – you know, the kind Schroeder (from Snoopy) plays. I was maybe 3 or 4, but I was amazed I could create sound using my little fingers. Awesome. I wouldn’t start piano for many years, but that experience is etched in my memory.

Some years later (3rd grade) I had (what I thought was) an epiphany after hearing a friend play piano at a birthday party. Combined with that early toy piano memory it was as if, in that moment, a giant piano magnet descended to Earth – and I would never again escape its attractive effect. I pestered my parents. Day after day. Week after week. “I want to play piano”. During those days mom was a homemaker and dad operated printing presses, so piano or lessons was a stretch. Realizing this was no passing childhood fantasy, my parents eventually bought me a piano (an out-of-tune, “junkyard” upright clunker they got at a flea market for $50). And I loved it. Thanks M&D. For supporting my childhood dream.

…But, I had no “piano-playing” gene

I wasn’t blessed with “the force” or have a teacher named Yoda. All I started with was a love for piano. So, for aspiring creatives, start where you are, I guaranty you’re no worse than I was. When I started piano I was the worst – by far – in my class. I had to work a little harder. Practice more. And you know what? I got better.

At the same time, let’s be clear. I was no “Horowitz” or “Rubinstein”. That’s just not me. And, it’s not what I aspired to either. I just enjoyed playing piano. Eventually, I “graduated” to private lessons and began improvising melodies. I wrote my first composition at age 12. “Big Chief” consisted of an open fifth chord repeated in the left hand and a few melody notes in the right. That’s it. Mozart I was not.

Still, time would disappear as I’d sit for hours writing and improvising. No matter how troubled, sad or depressed, I always felt better after some time at the piano. [What made time disappear for you? It may hold clues to your happiness…] Childhood lesson learned: Piano Heals

Fast-forward to “life defining” moment (part 1)

It was my first year of college when I got a wake-up call. Like many teenagers, I felt invincible. I was about to learn a hard lesson. That January I got incredibly sick with Bacterial Meningitis (technically meningococcal bacteria) and slipped into a coma. I was put in quarantine to protect others. I received the “last rites” – quite literally on my death bed.  One thing about meningitis – it kills you from your limbs in – and the fingers on my right hand had already turned dark purple from necrosis, I would learn later how dangerously close I came to amputation.

Scary stuff. I think back now and can’t imagine what my parents and family must have endured. I’m guessing it similar to the pain and anguish of families dealing with Coronavirus.

Miraculously, I made it through and recovered. I was thankful to be alive. To have my limbs and fingers. It was hard not to look at the world through a new, more appreciative perspective. And…something inside had changed. It was a true “life defining moment”.

At the time I was studying Engineering (why had I chosen “engineering” anyway? to please my guidance counselor? my parents? friends?). It didn’t feel like the right decision anymore. I had taken the “safe” route, not the one I felt. When I finally got out of the hospital, I spent several hours sitting at my piano before I came to a life-changing decision (why hadn’t I seen the connection sooner?).

Sometimes God just gives you a kick in the ass.

Later that year, I applied for transfer to the School of Music.

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

To get “accepted” into the School of Music, you had to audition in front of the music department faculty (think “Flashdance”). The piece I chose was “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. After what I’d 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 professors expected to hear. Unfortunately, no one had told me in advance.

As I feverishly built the emotion and dynamics heading into the chorus…. “Like A BRIDGE Over Troubled Water…” my fingers whirring across the piano –

“Ahem!” interrupted one of the professors.

As he continued the others held back giggles: “I’m sorry Mr. Girouard, we only accept classical music for entrance into the School of Music..”  They couldn’t contain their laughter any longer. “Tee-hee, ha-ha…HEE HA-HA…” A story repeated over tea and crumpets to this day, I’m sure.

On a different day, I probably could have seen the humor, but on this day – I was humiliated. I could feel the blood rushing to my face and I’m sure I was close to tears.

“life defining” moment (part 2)

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

Not me. I wasn’t going to give up. I got some Beethoven and Bach from the library, learned the required “classical” repertoire and returned a month later to ace my entrance audition. I worked my butt off, and received my music degree – even made Deans list. At my Senior recital, not only did I play the required classical repertoire, but I premiered several original compositions as well (including “Opus” which you can download for free here). The house was packed with supportive friends, classmates, music professors and a few early fans. I received a standing ovation the likes (I’d like to think) the School of Music had never seen!

I’m sure those music professors weren’t laughing now…

Seven Albums Later…and still working hard

Fast forward several decades, seven albums, hundreds of performances and countless music experiences and I still get that young, hungry feeling that I crave when I see my piano. I want to sit down and let my muse free. The Naked Piano embodies this creative process. You’ll find stories of struggle, achievement, joy, pain, sorrow and love – everything I’ve experienced in life is here. No disguise. Just me and a piano. Naked.

It hasn’t all been easy, however. Living on this planet for any length of time, one gets their share of adversity. It’s convenient to romanticize my story and make it seem like everything magically fell into place. Far from it. Believe me when I write this: I’ve sacrificed a lot to get where I am today. I’m guessing you have too. And that leads to the ending of this story…

Has it been worth it? You bet!

I wouldn’t change a thing. But, please know there would be no meaning without YOU. You’re the one who makes it all matter. That’s why I wrote this story! When I hear my music has made a positive difference or has eased stress or pain – well, that’s why I’m here. To enrich lives through piano.

And it’s why I encourage YOU to do the same. Whatever your creative calling, I want you to persevere even when odds are against you. I want you to have the courage to overcome criticism and adversity. I want you to be the difference you want to see in the world. And most importantly, my sincerest wish is you find joy, peace and abundance.

I look forward to many more sometimes hard, sometimes humiliating, 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, for your support and for making it all matter. I’m so grateful. Let’s change the world together. 

– Gary

7 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.
      – G

  3. Janine De Lorenzo
    | Reply

    A beautiful story Gary, despite the anguish of your audition! I think as piano players, we all have these life changing moments that contribute to our development and growth. Without them life would be bland!
    I applaud your courage to share this story. Thank you for the gift of your words and your music.
    Janine 🙂

    • pianoxcape
      | Reply

      Thanks Janine – I appreciate your words of support. If we listened to the “experts”, indeed our lives would be bland. Wishing you much success on your musical journey. All the best,

  4. Kevin
    | Reply

    When I was in elementary school, I learned piano under the arrangement of my parents. At that time, it was very painful to see the piano;
    When I was in high school, I suddenly fell in love with Richard Clayderman’s piano performance, and I started practicing piano again, and it didn’t take long for it to be abandoned again;
    After working for a period of time, by chance, I started to learn to play simple pop songs on the piano again, and maintained the fun for more than a year;
    Now I start to realize that I am not actually a pianist, but I can listen to piano music all day long.
    Thank you Gary, you let me feel the joy of listening to piano again, settle my mood with the music, and feel the pure beauty.

    • pianoxcape
      | Reply

      thanks for sharing Kevin.

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