They’re not laughing now…

Comments: 20

they-laughedI’m guessing you enjoy piano – or play piano yourself. Let me share a piano story I think you’ll enjoy. 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

20 Comments

  • Gerhard Lickert says:

    Dear Gary,
    thank You sharing Your story with us. It was very impressive to read.
    Thank You that You did not gave up(!), otherweise we could not hear this, Your great Music.
    Unfortunately I’m a listener, can not play piano.
    My wife is and I like to hear her playing piano:)
    For me Music is part of world behind all those Things, inspirational, mystic, … the Beauty …
    Waiting to hear Your Music here on the piano:))
    Thank You very much!

  • Hi Gary, It was great to meet you at the Bowdoin Festival, and a real treat to benefit from the hospitality offered by Steinway. Especially hearing the stories from other teachers, none of whom I’d met previously except for Rose. I cringed when you told us about your first audition experience, and just cringed again when reading it above. All the more motivation to preach “Music is for everyone” and to treat all that come to me wanting to learn piano with respect. Learning that you have this website was a bonus, and I really like the fact that you call your music “contemporary classical”. (I have already started using that term to discuss similar music.) I played the free piece for an adult student and she chose it for her next piece–I am sure we will be back for more.

    • Gary Girouard says:

      Thanks Alice – it was a pleasure to meet at the Bowdoin Festival. I am so impressed with your approach to music and the joy and passion you bring to your teaching. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you and your students. Talk soon!
      – Gary

  • Rose Erwin says:

    Hi Gary,
    You had shared a little of this story while at the Bowdoin Music Festival. I’m amazed that you learned the classical music in a month. You are truly gifted. I can’t help but wonder with a ‘near death’ experience that you must be called by God to share this talent you have. I don’t know what you believe about God, but I would be interested in a discussion. Music is very important to me and I am very passionate about sharing music with anyone who wants to learn. Over the years, playing the piano has been my solace, my stress relief, my worship to God and just plain fun! I enjoy teaching and it’s wonderful when a student “gets it” after trying for weeks. I also enjoy playing with family. My sisters and I always sing whenever we get together. Thank you for sharing you music with us.

    • Gary Girouard says:

      Thanks Rose – I would welcome a deeper discussion about the spiritual elements of music and your personal experiences. I do believe there is a higher order, intelligence, God, spirit – whatever lexicon we want to use – it is omnipresent and influencing us at all times. I look forward to continuing our conversations and learning more about your journey too.
      Your pal,

      – Gary

  • Arian says:

    Well Gary you know in that day for the first time unfortunately the music professors made fun of you and humiliated you but I had the same story as you .I couldn’t play piano well and one day my mum forced me to play in front of my friends and I even couldn’t play a song like the godfather and I was very sad and my eyes were getting wet but I was supported by my friends . You know how ?! They just said nothing to me and just looked at me . I read in their eyes what they wanted to say . They just told me “you are free to play and no one can force you” just by looking me politely . So I promised to play piano if I’m really interested in that . And that evoluted me and I started playing piano better than ever till I lost my piano teacher and you know the rest… 🙏

    • Gary Girouard says:

      Thanks for sharing your story Arian. Sounds like a similar experience. Fear can keep us from doing the things which make us happy. I wish you peace and joy as you pursue music, or anything else you set your mind to.

      All the best,
      – Gary

  • Gayle Starratt says:

    Hi Gary:
    I was appy to receive this email and ave a cance to comment.
    I had returned from a solo trip at 73 to St. Remy France. I visted the Carrieres De Luminieres. It is an old quarry in Les Baux. The gift is the immersion of art and music. Picasso digitally beaming on te 40 ft walls with music wafting from the Bose speakers. Intermittent display “Series from the Sixties” , the first piece of music chosen Simon/Garfunkel. Very emotive experience with joy.
    I mention all this as I had the oportunity to listen to you you play at Cotuit Art Center last week, also immersed in The Art of Rutchik.
    I experienced that joy again.
    Thank you for your gift.

    • Gary Girouard says:

      Thank you Gayle – I really enjoy playing at Cotuit – the immersion of art with sound is a wonderful experience. I’m so happy to have crossed paths! Best to you, – Gary

  • Kathy STRUDWICK says:

    Your music really was “music to the ears” at Cotuit Center for the Arts last week. Your fantastic achievement, your wonderful piano playing was very much appreciated. Kathy…..thank you.

  • artwave art says:

    I read this yesterday and I am impressed by your story.

    Actually I am thinking of buying all your cd’s plus the sheet music pdf’s,

    so maybe I will.

    I came across your music through Radio Art where I have a 2 year subscription.

    When I hear something I like, I can see the last 10 or so played pieces in a list, that way I saw your name after hearing the song Redemption which I liked a lot!

    • Gary Girouard says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comment! That piece “Redemption” is one of my favorites – when I play it I feel like I can accomplish anything.

      Warm regards,
      – Gary

  • Marty Hile says:

    Hi Gary,
    Love your music! I discovered you while searching solo piano and was instantly a huge fan. I especially appreciate that you are willing to share sheet music for so many of your compositions. The opportunity to learn to play your beautiful music provides tremendous motivation us fledgling piano lovers. Thanks for sharing your great story.

    • Gary Girouard says:

      Thanks Marty, I really appreciate your feedback. The piano has taken me on an interesting ride thus far. Please keep me updated on your progress, as I’m happy to help out.
      Best,
      – Gary

  • Pauline Friesen says:

    I just received your song, Forbidden Love! I absolutely love it! I play piano as well and would love to have the music to be able to play this! Thank you for sharing! I love your story!
    I’m inspired!

  • Sharon says:

    Hi Gary,

    Your music soothes my soul. Touches my heart and brings peace to my mind. It evokes deeper thoughts of gentle moments.

    Your story is strangely compelling. Thank you for sharing your music and snipits of your story with me.

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