Does this ever happen to you? You’re going through your day and something randomly brings up a childhood memory and suddenly you can’t concentrate until you’re able to unearth whatever detail was missing? That happened to me when I randomly started thinking about ragtime music and the time I used to spend at Disneyland as a child. It’s not often that I can trace back certain points of my life where I was truly inspired by something/someone and when I was in elementary school and still fairly new to learning piano, there came a point where it wasn’t something that I was being forced to do and rather something that I would come to enjoy to do. Unfortunately it eventually became something that I wouldn’t enjoy as much, but that’s another story.
Anyways, as an impressionable youth I would spend a lot of free time at Disneyland whenever my parents would allow it since I had an annual pass. One of the many things that I loved doing was to sit for hours at Coke Corner and just become mesmerized by Rod Miller. He was a fixture at the piano playing ragtime, he brought Scott Joplin to life for me. Before my only exposure to Joplin was the soundtrack to The Sting that my parents owned on record (yeah.. record, that’s how old I am). Watching someone not only play, but enjoy the piano like Rod was a revelation to me. I would sit there entranced by the infectious energy and would sometimes work up the nerve to talk to him. I learned that he had never taken a lesson before in life, instead learning how to play piano by ear. That he practiced an insane amount of hours each day until he perfected each song. It made me feel ashamed that I was taking for granted the lessons my parents were paying for and made me want to do better. Not long after I went to the local music shop to buy a book of Joplin to learn, I went to the library to pick up CD’s of his music so I could figure out which songs I would tackle. My piano teacher was excited that I was finally taking initiative and found something that I wanted to play! She even started spreading the ragtime love around to other students and soon our yearly recital would include at least one Joplin entry. I eventually started branching out and finding more music that I wanted to learn, a few are still on my “to do” list like Liszt La Campanella (although my hands are a bit too small to play all the octaves).
I still remember the first time that I finished learning The Entertainer, I felt like I was finally enjoying playing the piano and I couldn’t wait to tackle my next song. For that feeling of accomplishment I have to thank Rod. I used to think that someday when I felt I was good enough, I would sit at Coke Corner and then ask to play for him, but I never worked up the nerve. Unfortunately he has since retired and I’m sad that I missed his last day. When I was trying to find information on him I came across another blogger’s post that you can read here that is also reminiscent about the nostalgia felt for Rod and Coke Corner.