An Old Dog (in this case Ellen) Can Learn New Tricks

Ellen teclado

As soon as we got our keyboards in May, I started playing the songs for the primary children’s meetings, thinking that, even though I’m not a very accomplished pianist, whatever I could contribute would be better than nothing. I already knew most of the songs, so I easily started out playing the melody only. After a few weeks, I noticed that some of the songs actually looked pretty easy, so I started adding in some accompaniment. Then I started bringing a keyboard in from the car and practicing when I had extra time at home.

To my great surprise, all those lessons I’ve been teaching to our beginning pianists had taught me a lot of strategies that I started to apply: use your whole hand, not just a few favorite fingers; look ahead so your hand is in position to play the notes; look for patterns that are repeated; look at the key signature before you start; look at the music, not your hands.  I realized that I could take the same advice I was giving students who make mistakes: all pianists make mistakes and nobody gets hurt by them; the singers aren’t going to stop and wait for you, so just be ready to reenter at any point if you get lost or miss a part; play the melody any time you can’t get all the notes.

Knowing I was just the “rehearsal pianist,” I let Frank play for the first of four primary programs. But then I decided I could be as brave as the students we are teaching. If eight-year olds and their parents, who never touched a keyboard before May, can practice for hours and hours and then accompany hymns in sacrament meeting, then a competent adult who has enjoyed singing all her life and who understands how to read music can learn to do the same.

When the next primary program came around a few weeks later, I played the music myself, and I did just fine.

Our students here can’t imagine that I come from a place so rich in talent that this is my first time ever to play the piano in a sacrament meeting. The advantage of living in a place where your contribution is greatly needed, is that you get opportunities to grow that you wouldn’t have someplace else.

We knew that we would grow spiritually and learn new things while we served, but I thought I needed to already play the piano before we came if I were to contribute accompaniment. One of the gifts of our mission is that we have the time and the need to do some things we were too busy to do while we were working and raising a family. We are enjoying having time to really study the scriptures and always be prepared to teach a lesson or give an impromptu talk. We’re learning to be more competent in Spanish every day. Frank is loving mentoring the young men and their leaders. And now I even feel a little bit confident saying that I can play the piano.

P. S. I actually couldn’t learn the song “Baptism,” so I downloaded a simplified version. Then I realized that it was simple enough for one of the more advanced students to play, so I passed it on to her, and she will be sharing the piano with me in one branch next week, playing two of the songs. So if I do this right, I’ll immediately put myself out of the job I just learned how to do. Yay!

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5 thoughts on “An Old Dog (in this case Ellen) Can Learn New Tricks

    • Nope. You’ve never seen a Nicaraguan restaurant, have you? Everyone here eats gallo pinto, which means “spotted rooster” and is the name for rice with beans. Breakfast is gallo pinto, lunch is gallo pinto with a bit of chicken, and dinner is gallo pinto with cheese if you can afford it. In a restaurant, you get gallo pinto with deep fried cheese curd (extremely salty), deep fried plantains (a lot like potatoes without so much flavor), and chicken or beef, generally a bit over-cooked. We visited a young woman to help her with her mission application, and she had a pet parakeet. There in the cage was a bowl of gallo pinto.
      In an attempt to cater to Americans, who generally want a bit more interesting flavor, you can order garlic chicken or beef with onions, but the flavors are overdone, so perhaps an entire bulb–not clove–of garlic chopped up in a thin sauce over a chicken breast.
      To add insult to injury, I have developed our mother’s inability to eat rice without esophageal spasms, so I can’t even eat the gallo pinto. Our favorite place to eat in Granada is a lunch shop called “El Garaje,” because it is a converted garage. It is owned by a Canadian couple, and they experiment with awesome vegetarian dishes like grilled eggplant and fresh mushroom sauce with toasted cashews, which I had for lunch today. Frank loves their pulled pork sandwiches and grilled chicken.

  1. Love this post. Thanks for sharing this. Missions are so amazing in so many ways. Take care and best to you both.

    Sent from my iPad

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