On Striking A CHORD

The Cool Tools podcast showcases all manner of inventions and resources that are tried, tested, and loved by a variety of people in a variety of roles. What does it take for tools to be cool? According to Cool Tools, they can be “old or new as long as they are wonderful.” During one of the podcast’s most recent programs, author and artist Austin Kleon sang the praises of his four favorite tools, including his family’s piano.

In an earlier blog post, Kleon describes a piano as “the most important piece of furniture in the house.” For Kleon, it’s something his son “could walk over to and play his feelings on.” Kleon’s homage to his piano reminded me of the affection I held for the most treasured possession of my childhood and tween years: a chord organ that I literally played into the ground. Yes, literally. My last memory of the organ involves duct tape holding up its collapsing legs.

A chord organ much like the one of my youth

Some might regard a chord organ as the lazy man’s accordion. No bellows to push in and pull out. Just twelve buttons on the lefthand side, each one marked to play a certain chord. Also, forget applying any kind of formal music theory when it comes to chord organs. Numbers appear over each key on the keyboard and match those appearing on the notes in special chord-organ music books.

The key word is “music”—chord organ enthusiasts still make music despite no technical training and some shortcuts. Indeed, I made music. I prided myself on my rousing rendition of “Camptown Races,” the smooth cascading melody of my version of “Theme from Ice Castles,” and all of the Christmas carols I pulled off when the season was right. An adult acquaintance who taught piano to other kids my age was convinced I was forming “bad habits” with my chord-organ playing. I took offense—for a moment. There was nothing that could hold me back from the joy of simply playing my heart out on that thing. Incorrect posture? Improper hand positions? Other supposed errors and inaccuracies? Whatever.

I write this as our daughter plunks away on the keyboard in the next room. An accomplished piano teacher sits by her side. But what we love most about this teacher is the way she just digs into fun and interesting songs, encourages experimentation, and extends a lot of grace. I never, not ever, have to ask our daughter to practice; in fact, “practice” isn’t even a word we use when it comes to her piano playing. In other words, it’s not something to be mastered—it’s something to appreciate as both a retreat and a platform, to “play” in the best and funnest sense of the word, to make her own. I pray it’s this kind of music-making that always strikes a chord with our daughter. I pray it becomes more true for other people, too.

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