They’re not laughing now…

posted in: Blog | 5

they-laughedI’m guessing you enjoy piano – or play piano yourself. Let me share a piano story I think you’ll enjoy – full of insight, humor and hopefully a little inspiration as well. 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…

Let it be known, I love the piano…

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 2 or 3, but I was amazed I could create sound using my little fingers. Pure awesomeness!

Several years later (3rd grade) I heard a schoolmate playing “The Entertainer” and I KNEW, I had to play piano. During those days mom was a homemaker, and dad was a printer, so asking for a piano was downright selfish. But, I did. I asked and asked. Kids can be persistent…. and eventually my parents DID get me a piano. A bright-BLUE one. With keys falling apart. Completely out of tune. A real CLUNKER. Cost: $50. And I loved it. (M&D, you’re awesome!)

…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 aspiring creatives, start where you are, I guaranty you’re no worse than I was. When I started piano (age 9) I was the worst – by far – in my class. It meant I worked a little harder. Practiced a little longer. And you know what? I got better.

Eventually, I “graduated” to private lessons and began improvising melodies. I wrote my first composition at age 12. 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. Lesson learned: PIANO HEALS

A “life defining” moment (part 1)

Taking advice from the guidance counselor (plus an aptitude for math/science), I was to pursue Engineering at the University of Connecticut. During my freshman year I got Bacterial Meningitis – went into a coma, was read the “last rites“, and, well… I came within inches of death – looked him in the face, I’d say.

Scary stuff. Almost had to amputate fingers on my right hand (you’d be reading a different story, for sure). It was a true “life defining moment”. When I finally got out of the hospital (with all my digits – phew!) I spent several hours sitting at my piano. I realized…I needed to make a change (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”, you had to audition (think “Flashdance”) in front of the music department faculty. The piece I chose was “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel (original version in Eb). 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 professors wanted to hear.

As I feverishly built the emotion and dynamics heading into the chorus…. “Like A BRIDGE Over Troubled Water…

All of a sudden:

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 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. I was close to crying. The only thought: I….will…..NOT….give…up!!!…

A “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. There was a divine plan at work and I wasn’t about to give it up for anything! I got some music from the library, learned the required “classical” repertoire and returned a month later to ace my entrance audition. I worked my ass off, and received my music degree – even made Deans list. At my Senior recital, not only did I play some advanced classical repertoire, but I premiered several original compositions as well. 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…

Six Albums Later…and still working hard!

Fast forward two decades, 6 albums, hundreds of performances, multiple album nominations and awards, and a million other musical experiences along the way and I still get that young, hungry feeling that I crave when I see my piano. I want to sit and play. To work out my thoughts, ideas and issues. My muse never rests.

It hasn’t all been easy, however. Living on this planet for 4+ decades, 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.

Has it been worth it? You bet!

Perhaps more important than any of that, it’s YOU, the listener, 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!

I’ll share a little secret with you: I keep an “inspiration jar” near my piano – inside where you’ll find the notes, email, comments and letters of encouragement you send or post online. When I’m down or needing motivation, I reach in that jar and read one of your messages. It’s just a little reminder why I’m here. I truly care about you. I want to help. To inspire. To love. To grow. This is a quest – a MISSION – and I want to share it with you.

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. 

– Gary

5 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

  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,

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