Richard Foster describes his challenges to learn piano as an adult…and the challenge of finding a perfect place to practice.

When I was growing up in suburban Chicago, I took piano lessons. It wasn’t so much that I was hot to play the piano; I wanted to take lessons because my big brother, Jack, took them, and if Jack wanted to do something, I wanted to do it, too. My brother got pretty good at the piano, but I never did – one reason being, I realized many years later, that I had what you might call musical dyslexia. To me, musical notes were a blizzard of black dots dispersed on lined paper, all sorts of dots, some with stems and flags, plus other weird and confusing marks with names like fermata and mordent, plus curt instructions, most of them in Italian.

It was also many years later that I learned something else: If you want to practice enough to play the piano even halfway decently, you need more than time and motivation to practice; you need a place to practice. You need a place where you can work hard for a long time, pretty much every day. After a lot of looking and a lot of frustration, I found such a place: the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, on Milwaukee’s East Side.

I first found a place like that a long time ago, and far away. I used to be a newspaper reporter, editor and editorial writer, and during one of my trips to the old Soviet Union, I took an afternoon off to clear my head after too many interviews with dissentients, refuseniks, apparatchiks and others with axes to grind. I decided to go to a concert. I don’t remember whether this was in Moscow or Leningrad, but I do remember the hall where the concert was held. It was housed in a building that, like Soviet Russia itself, was big, old and dilapidated.