Overcoming Musical Adversity

February 20, 2013

My parents put me in piano lessons as soon as my neck had the muscular control to hold its own head up.


Making musical magic

Baby-weakness was the largest hurdle to my piano training, but soon enough  my baby-hands learned to pound out concertos like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  As far as I could tell, Mary’s lamb never sounded so beautiful and that rowing boat was saving lives.

My music was really making a difference.

So I continued to play the piano, fighting against all forms of adversity. And  by adversity, I actually mean my younger brother Matthew.

In our childhood years, he would throw things at me as I practiced piano, push me off the bench, and when sheer physical force didn’t work, wail into our dad’s trumpet as loud as he could.

Matthew creating adversity (Age 2)

Matthew creating adversity (Age 2)

I would respond by playing louder and screaming, “MOM! MOM! MOM!”

We were all very close.

Between my brother’s trumpet wailing and my piano pounding, our house blossomed into a musical inferno. Meanwhile, my older sister Rachel quietly practiced her ballet moves or read above-grade-level novels. She was always the peacemaker and had hair that you could run a brush through, which was more than I could say for my brother or me.

The Friesen musical inferno

The Friesen musical inferno

I was the only one who stuck with piano lessons. My Aunt Arlene taught me how to worship on the piano, while a very serious woman named Mrs. Shoemaker taught me how to practice scales and play sonatas.

Mrs. Shoemaker was so serious that she would send me home with notes to my mother remarking on her poor parking job. And my mother would reply with a crisp monthly check for her services.  It was quite an imbalanced relationship, but Mrs. Shoemaker was the boss of everyone. She is the reason I kept taking piano lessons through high school. I was too scared to quit.

In an attempt to branch out, I once played at an open mic night. It didn’t go well. I played the opening sequence of a song for a full 15 minutes, never gaining the courage to speak, let alone sing, a single thing into the microphone. Everyone was looking at me with pity eyes. And that’s when I decided to focus on venues where people sing along with their eyes closed.

I’ve played in churches ever since.

This Sunday at church I was playing a new keyboard, one that looks and sounds like a keyboard but can also produce a laugh track, rolling thunder, or a fire alarm. I haven’t tested it yet, but I’m pretty sure this robot-keyboard can also solve math equations and give marital advice.  It’s pretty versatile.

And on Sunday, the robot- keyboard went rogue.

In the middle of the worship set, I began the intro to a slow, dramatic song. It was the sort of song that could make people cry and maybe even save lives.  I wasn’t sure, but I was optimistic.

But when I pressed the keys, a rave-beat burst forth instead.

Boom. boom. boo-boo-boom.

Boom. boom. boo-boo-boom.

As I frantically pressed buttons to turn it off, mystery piano solos began layering on and Sunday worshippers began lowering their raised hands. Someone whooped, as if she came to church to party and the robot read her mind.  We were on the verge of anarchy before the offering.

After a few seconds, all the button-pushing somehow achieved the miraculous. The rave-track faded, the piano returned, and the service went on. Peace was restored, but my adult-hands were shaky the rest of the time.

It was terribly exciting.

Since the incident, I’ve reflected on all the other musical adversities I have overcome: my weak baby muscles, my pesky younger brother, and my mother’s poor parking jobs.

And I decided it was time to write a blog directly to the robot-keyboard, because it is so smart that I assume that it can also read and access Wi-Fi Internet.

Welcome to the blog, robot-keyboard.

Here is what I have to say to you.

Please stop harassing me. Let’s be friends and make music together. Please don’t make me look like a fool, because if you do, I have a brother. His name is Matthew.  We are on the same team now because we are older. And he will come after you… with a trumpet.

And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Musical adversity


  • Kenra Coffey

    For the record that beautiful slow dramatic song brought me to tears and who knows mabye even saved my life 🙂 You did amazing this weekend and tell that silly piano to stop being so high tech! I love you and your words bring such a smile! I have a feeling your brother and my brother would make the best of friends!

    • Kenra-
      We will have to introduce our brothers, but only if they make a pact to not join forces to torment us! Thanks for coming this weekend. Miss you already!

  • Ben Brinkman

    Brilliant Blog! Let me just say this about Sunday. First I thought we were doing some sweet new techno song, then I looked up and saw the frantic pushing of buttons, need I say it was classic. The thing that was the most impressive was that minute you began to play and sing everyone in the place could sense the presence of God.

    • Thanks so much for reading and for the validation, Ben.
      The incident actually inspired me and I’m preparing some crunchy techno beats for this Sunday. Buckle up, Pastor, it’s about to get real!

      • Ben Brinkman

        Lol. But you must put those frantic dance moves with it to stay consistent.

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