Growing up, there were a lot of rules in the Harrison household. We could only eat “cold” cereal on the weekends, and even then only before 9am (a tactic my parents used to get us out of bed on the weekends), there was absolutely no TV allowed during the week, and only a specific allotment of time for TV on Friday and Saturday nights. We were only allowed to play on the computer or play video games for an hour a day, and of course only after our homework was completed. Also, expected each day, every child was to practice the piano for forty-five minutes. I was in the younger portion of the family, and the last three children were to practice an additional instrument (mine was the cello) for thirty minutes per day. One hour and fifteen minutes of pure torture, per day.
Did I mention I grew up in a big family? There were twelve of us. I am number eleven; the eleventh of twelve. Now, we were all required to play the forty-five minutes of piano as we reached middle and high school, but as younger, elementary-school-aged children, an hour was expected of us each day (barring Sunday, the Holy Sabbath).
In the morning, my mother would enter each bedroom and wake up the sleeping children who occupied each said bedroom (there were usually two, and sometimes three occupants in each room). She would brightly sing:
Rise and shine
Get up it's mornin’ time!
Rise and shine
Get up it's mornin’ time!
Rise! And! Shine! And!
Get up it's morning time
Children of the Lord
We would grumpily roll out of bed, and when we heard the “dinner bell” (a large, brass bell that was rung in order to call the family from all corners of the house—used for prayer time, breakfast, dinner, and scripture reading) we would stumble into the living room, still in our PJ’s for family prayer. And that is when the action started.
The elementary school kids were allowed to play the piano for thirty minutes in the morning, before school. If this was accomplished, after school was over you would only be required to play thirty more minutes of the hated instrument until you were free all evening! The only catch was, we only had two pianos. There were five or six of us at the ripe age of splitting our piano time, but only two pianos. So, in the mornin’, it was an all-out sleep-still-in-our-eyes war for who got to play the piano.
We would position ourselves carefully in the living room: the grand piano was located there, and the best spot to be in the family prayer circle was in the back of the room, nearest that piano. The older piano was downstairs, so the planning had to be strategic—either you got the good piano upstairs, or you had to sacrifice it to at least get one of the pianos in the morning. A second catch: due to the battling of the children for the pianos in the morning, it was forbidden to have your piano books already in your hands or (God forbid) already set up on the piano, ready to be played out of by some smartie-pants who thought ahead the night before. So, after the bell was rung, and the children stumbled into the living room for family prayer, things got serious. Children pushed and shoved each other for the coveted kneeling positions, and after the parents selected a child to offer up the supplication to heaven we would all bow our heads, tensed and ready to spring as soon as the prayer ended. If you were the selected orator, you had an advantage—you got to choose when the prayer ended, and therefore you were the most ready to run for your piano books, and subsequently, for the piano itself. The other children were would peek their eyes open, and gauge the other’s reactions and future moves, as well as eyeing the prayer-giver, sizing them up and guessing what tricks they had up their sleeve, ready to jump up as soon the word “amen” was spoken. And then, it would happen. The child would utter the trigger, “amen”, and the living room would erupt in chaos: children running for their books, desperately trying to be the first to get their bums on the bench. Every morning ended in fights, and exclamations of, “I got here first!” and “Mom! Lance cheated!” or, “Mom! Trent doesn’t even have his books yet!!”. Often, the daily morning battle would end in tears.
After the morning action, everything settled down a bit. I, along with most of my siblings, objected obstinately to practicing the piano. I abhorred the forty-five to an hour (plus an additional thirty on the cello) spent each day playing music. I would often “cheat” on my time by speeding up the timer, and if I didn’t do that, I would lie down on the piano bench and wish away the seconds. My parents were cognizant of all this degenerate behavior, and they could be heard from distant corners of the house hollering, “Keep going!” Sometimes, in the act of lying down, and with the pressure of the parental need to hear music flowing from the living room, I would attempt to pick out the tune with my toes.
I wouldn’t ever leave the bench, though. As much as I hated playing the thing, I couldn’t leave the thing, because I had an obligation, and again only two pianos to accomplish this expectation on. Going to the bathroom was tricky. You had to be quiet and quick—lest a sibling steal your piano. An empty piano bench, regardless of how much time you had left, was fair play.
When I was sixteen, I talked my parents into letting me quit music lessons. I never felt such relief, and such freedom when they relented. Suddenly I had so much extra time for activities! It wasn’t until a little later in my life that I realized what a privilege it had been to learn to play two different instruments, as well as to develop the skill of reading music. My parents had paid for lessons year after year (ten), and I had squandered the opportunity. I wasn’t bad at playing the piano by any means, I had learned to do so, and quite well, but I could have been so much better if I had just appreciated the prospect. But such are the ways of maturation, and the honed ability to value your parents and their attempts to shape you into a well-developed adult that only come once you are grown.