Maybe it’s because I am one who wasn’t able to take lessons as a girl.
Some people feel tortured listening to little kids trying to play the piano. But no matter how inexperienced a music student is, I totally and completely enjoy the concerts our family is obligated to attend twice a year. From the youngest students to the oldest ones, I sit enthralled. Every song is beautiful. Not only because it’s the product of hard work and diligent practice, but because with every note there’s a love for artistry that has the power to topple barriers, to bring healing to weary souls, and to awaken a body to dance.
With that said… These are my reflections of our latest piano recital, with a few flashbacks from previous ones:
C started piano lessons when he was a little guy, just six years old.
Then after only a few months, with December and Christmas, the time had come for his first concert.
He wore a black suit, white dress shirt and black bow tie. (What covered his feet I don’t remember, but my guess is, cowboy boots. He and his family live on a small ranch, and almost every time I see him, he’s got those boots on. Not appropriate attire for the London Philharmonic, but perfectly acceptable in this part of the country.)
He sat on the bench with legs dangling and both hands on the keys. Using one finger from each small hand, he played the notes of a simple Christmas tune. A pause here and there, and—oops!—a wrong note or two, but he did it!
Mom and Dad and Big Sister applauded, as did the rest of the audience.
C left the piano bench, and moved toward the edge of the platform. Then he bowed. So perfect was his bow, he could give lessons, his teacher remarked later.
His sister was three years older. Naturally, her songs were a little harder than his. But all those years ago, both learned piano pieces from beginner books.
Last week, though, at this year’s spring recital, C played “Sonatina in G Major” by Beethoven, and did very well. He is now eleven, and his sister is fourteen.
She amazed us all by performing “Doctor Gradus” by Debussy. Her fingers scrambled up and down the keyboard, with hands crossing over several times. The song concluded with a dramatic ending. Her mom beamed, and I sat, in tears. (When I’m intensely happy, I cry.)
Images of these two kids dwarfed by the grand instrument kept flashing before me. After seven or eight years of lessons, they’re becoming so accomplished. I’m as proud of them as I would be of my own offspring.
In a shy voice M introduced herself and went to the piano. This young teen’s fingers moved gently over the keyboard, playing Yiruma’s “River Flows In You” and her original composition “Serenity.” So much expression flowed, revealing to all real potential. Music is her language of choice, and already she is learning to speak it well.
Two blond sisters have taken lessons for several years, and it’s a treat to hear how far they’ve come. They’re fun to listen to and to watch.
A couple other students played their pieces that afternoon, and we rejoiced with them as they made it all the way through with few mistakes. As they bowed, I noticed a look of relief, but also pride in their accomplishment.
Two young men, older teens and brothers, have also been long-time students. Through the years as they made their introductions, I wondered if they were only taking lessons because someone was making them.
But now they play with such confidence and skill. Neither of them look tortured, except when they have to speak or bow. And they keep coming back. So maybe they really enjoy playing.
Sitting at the piano this time was the younger brother, who got down to business by playing “Ballade” by Burmuller and “Solfeggieto” by Bach. It’s refreshing to see a young man apply his strength and masculinity in a positive way to an instrument. As in years past, the audience was impressed by his performance.
Being the last one on the program, my own daughter stepped up to the microphone for the introduction, then slipped behind the piano. She’s been taking lessons for over nine years from a teacher who has become like a grandmother to her. As E spoke and began playing, I relived the earlier years. She was seven, eight, ten, twelve… playing simple songs. After the first couple years it was no longer easy. She wanted to quit and play softball with her friends.
Sorry, you’re not quitting, I said. You can do this. You just have to work a little harder than what you’re used to.
She was not happy with me. But she kept at it. With each new lesson book the staffs grew smaller, and more notes filled those lines and spaces. Then she added foot pedals, dynamics, tempo, chords and modulations…
Now at seventeen, not only is she playing beautiful music, but she’s composing her own pieces.
On that afternoon of the recital E sat poised on the bench, in her own magical world. As she played, my spirit soared and swayed with the music, keeping time with her, knowing what notes would come next… only because I’ve heard her practicing the same songs so many times before.
One minute the mood was gentle, and the next, raging, as her fingers reached from one end of the keyboard to the other… The audience was given a glimpse into her soul. Whether playing “Mrs. Darcy” from Pride and Prejudice, “Magnificent Monarch” by Melody Bober, or her own original work, “Heartbreak in the Sea,” my eyes fill with tears. Of course, they’re happy tears, because this daughter of mine is now happiest when making music. And those who listen can’t help but share the joy.