Paul Chelmis - Skinny Legs & All

8:04 PM Posted by Skinny Legs and All

EVER since I knew how to make armpit farts, I’ve been messing around on the keys. When I was only 5 years old, we got a brand spankin’ new Yamaha keyboard – with top-of-the-line 61-key polyphonic note action, and the ability to record onto an A-drive floppy diskette! Naturally I was floored. I played with everything from the MIDI sound effects to the funky 80’s drum loops. I liked to play back the demo songs, and then try to learn them by ear (which, anyone who owns a mainstream keyboard with a demo song knows, is impossible).

However, that is what sparked my musical ability – my ear – and when my mother caught wind of this, descending from a very musical family, she recognized it instantly and dropped me into the Suzuki piano school.

I hated it. Everything about it, from the rows of identical, boring, non-demo-brandishing Rhodes pianos to the monotonous droning of my teacher’s Japanese accented voice, to the dreaded Hannon exercises. I was miserable – and from that point on, I continued to be miserable, after switching to various private teachers and even taking classes at school. The worst part was practicing. It was a constant battle between me and my mother, and I hated doing it. I even remember crying sometimes when I realized it was Monday (lessons day).

I don’t really remember the point at which playing the piano actually became enjoyable. It may have been when we moved from my hometown Charlotte, NC to here in Asheville. It may have been when my grandmother bought me a brand new keyboard, with a full 88 keys and beautiful sounds – or it may have been when I started leaning away from classical training and discovered more fun genres like, dare I say, the blues. But at that point, when I could sit down at a random piano and impress my friends by playing “Clocks” by Coldplay, I started to realize that I may have, if you’ll excuse the pun, stricken a right note here.

After I had been away at boarding school for a few years and hadn’t had any lessons in even longer, I began training again with local musician Chuck Lichtenberger, whom with his wife is the essence of the sensational band “Stephanie’s Id”. He recognized my unusual talent of having an ear and a feel for music (but not very many technical skills), and instead of trying to correct me, really worked to bring it out of me. I truly owe a lot of what I do today to him, and he is a huge role model for me.

Then came the day Jesse Barry came up to me after school and asked if I would like to audition for the band. I was flabbergasted – I had only been in one non-classical “band” before, and…well… in 6 months we had learned one good song. Naturally, it was a lot of pressure, but I can safely say now that it was incredibly worth it. And that goes for everything else I’ve been through – the kicking and screaming, the relentless daily scales – the one thing I can say is that I was so glad I stuck with it, and am even more grateful for people like my mother who “helped” me stay focused. Because it’s true what they say, though we all hate to hear it – practice really does make perfect. And though of course I am not perfect, and I have a long way to go, the hard work has certainly paid off so far… and I look forward to the arpeggios, the steps up and down, and the crazy intervals that my musical career has notated out for me and my future.
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