By Heather O.
I grew up taking piano lessons. You would think, then, that I would be a good pianist, given that I played for like, 10 years.
I can bang my way through some hymns if given fair warning, and I discovered I’m good enough to teach beginners (well, one beginner whose mother was desperate and poor and figured I sucked so badly I didn’t need to be paid–which was true). But basically I’m lazy and sloppy, two traits that do not make for a good concert pianist. Or happy recitals.
I have lots of piano recital horror stories. There was the time when we were late, I was running in with my sister, it was Christmas, and I fell on some ice and biffed it on the concrete in a mini-skirt and hose. There was blood running down my leg, and I still have the scar from the deep scrape that ripped across my knee. But, the show must go on, so I played my piece, (badly, I presume, although I have no real memory of the actual playing) and stood up to bow to the crowd. There was an audible gasp as I curtsied and felt my scab rip open and blood ooze from my knee. Like I said, the scar is still there, bright and shiny.
Later my mom was complimenting my sister on a job well done, and I said, “How did I sound?” My mom hedged a bit and said, “Well, I think you sort of lost your concentration.” Yeah, there’s a euphemism if I ever heard one. My mom is just too nice a lady to say, “Honey, basically, you sucked.”
My junior year in highschool (and, possibly my last recital), I was first to perform on the program because I had to leave right away to go a debate banquet, where I was giving a speech. My teacher made this big deal about me starting the program, because she wanted the first piece to be PERFECT, because the first piece set the entire tone for the whole recital. Against her better judgement, she told me, she was going to put me first, and come hell or high water I shouldn’t let her down.
I let her down.
You can blame my disastrous performance that night on the fact that I was also running through my speech in my head, but that wouldn’t be completely accurate. Mostly, I fell apart because of sheer nerves. I played my piece until I got to a certain part, and for some reason, I just couldn’t get through it. I did the cardinal performance sin, and STARTED OVER, only to get to that part again and stall once more. I fumbled around for a bit, and then my teacher did the ultimate YOU SUCK! maneuver. She walked onto the stage, and handed me my music. All the adrenaline left as I found my place and worked through the stupid bad part, and I finished the piece as quickly as I could with tears stinging my eyes. I knew my teacher was fuming. I didn’t dare look at her as we left the recital, on my way to the debate event, and the next lesson she sort of sighed and said, “Well, the recital went pretty well despite your performance. You were the only one who needed her music.”
Not surprisingly, I think I quit not long after that.
To be fair, I’m sure my teacher was completely fed up with me. I was an overscheduled teenager who cared a lot more about other things than I did about piano, and most of the last 2 years I gave it a halfhearted effort at best. Who wants to teach such a deadbeat? I’ll bet she gave a huge sigh of relief when I finally quit. We both probably did.
That was almost 20 years ago. You’d think I’d be over it. But there’s nothing like watching your six year old crash and burn at his own piano recital to bring it all back.
I suppose crash and burn is a harsh term. He was counting, he maintained a steady beat, something we’d been working on. But he was all upset about this one measure of his piece, saying that I had told him to play it a certain way, but his teacher had told him to play it differently. DH has taken him to his last 3 lessons, and so I couldn’t be sure what his teacher had told him. I was certain he misunderstood the teacher, but I couldn’t make him relax about it. So, of course, when he got to that measure, he choked.
To his credit, he didn’t start over. He simply shrugged, looked at the audience and said, “Ooops!”
The kid’s got hutzpah, gotta give him that.
Afterwards, another parent said to me, “Um, you seemed kind of nervous when he got up there. You okay?”
I smiled a small smile and said, “Yeah. I guess I’m just reliving some of my own disasters.”
His wife joined in and said, “Oh it’s always worse for the parents than it is for the kids. I’m sure your son felt fine.”
And he did. I asked him if he was nervous and he said, “No, I just felt a lot of pride.”
Well. All righty then.
It made me wonder what kind of agony I put MY mother through as I fumbled and fidgeted and botched my way through many a piano recital. Perhaps she gave up the nervousness, and just resigned herself to the inevitable. Poor woman.
As we got started, I hissed to my husband, “I can’t believe we’re making him do this! We’re so mean!”
Dh just looked at me and said, “This is about him, not you. You’re not the one that has to go up there today.”
Of course my husband is right. My son’s experiences are about him, not me. And mistakes are just part of the process.
I’m still not sure I’ll ever be able to sit through a piano recital with ease, though. Maybe I should take some valium before the next one to help ease the scars of my youth.
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