Wednesday, June 17, 2009

14. Piano Recital

Ah, Lily! Your hand position!

That scary, intimidating, yet exciting event called the Spring Piano Recital is now history. And what a rewarding and fun time it was. This year I have had 11 piano students- 8 children and 3 adults. Most of them have had a productive year, but I do admit to wanting to pull my hair out at the end of more than a few teaching days. Grace, you didn’t practice this week EITHER? Emerson, you forgot your books AGAIN? Alden, your fingers STILL look like spaghetti!

All is forgiven, though, when the recital performances are like those I heard on a recent Sunday afternoon. Most of the children have been studying for about 2 years and they are now making music. In addition to the usual Suzuki beginner pieces we were treated to the sounds of Bach, Mozart, Hummel, Kabalevsky and Bartok, and without exception these miniatures contained dynamics, correct articulation, phrasing, and feeling. In short, musicality.

In these days of technical verbosity, why does a child or adult choose to take up an instrument? Thankfully the human desire for creativity and expression cannot be fully met by electronic devices. The piano seems to enjoy a universal attraction and I feel lucky that it is my instrument and the one that I teach.

For about 2 years now I have had an especially challenging high school student that I’ll call Jim. When he first came to play for me I wasn’t sure if I could work with him. He would neither talk to me nor look me in the eye and his playing, at an intermediate level, was troublesome. His hand position was atrocious, his legs were in constant motion and he couldn’t count to save his life. Why, oh why does this kid want to play piano? I must have been up for a challenge since I decided to take him on, and for a long while it was a struggle. In addition to there being little personal connection between us, he had no idea what practicing meant. After a few months I gave him the usual song and dance: this is a waste of my time and your mother’s money.

But slowly something started to change. He learned one of Bach’s minuets and began to play with feeling. He asked to learn more Bach and chose the Musette in D made famous by Bobby McFarren and Yo-Yo Ma. About this time he even began talking to me and laughing at my cryptic jokes. I started to like this boy!

After about a year of study his grandmother came in to tell me how much piano meant to Jim. She took me aside and whispered He has Asperger’s syndrome, you know. Well, I didn’t know much about that and I immediately did some research. Bingo, it all made sense. That Jim could push aside this developmental disorder and communicate through playing the piano is a striking example of the power of music to transcend our human limitations.

I often think back to my own piano study and recitals growing up. For 12 years I studied with Mrs. Harris, a fixture among the local piano teachers. A graduate of the University of Texas, she had a large class of students and was also the organist at my church, First Baptist. She was a wonderful teacher and always had a twinkle in her eye as she conveyed her enthusiasm for the music. Many of her students, including myself, consistently won top prizes in competitions sponsored by the Lubbock Music Teachers Association. And were we ever busy! There was always another hymn festival or sonatina contest or theory exam on the horizon. She had so many students that she had to divide them in half and have 2 separate recitals.

In my teenage years Mrs. Harris and I did have a few run-ins. She was not too pleased when I announced that I wanted to play a medley from The Sound of Music for the recital. And there was a whole string of lessons when I arrived quite late, thanks to spending some time after school in my boyfriend’s car, and was subject to her glower. But through the years she gave me so much more than my parents ever paid for and was thrilled and proud that one of her students went to Baylor as a piano major.

For as long as I can remember music has been my soul food. It is the one thing that has never let me down- in my darkest days it has been a steady and comforting companion and in good times it has allowed me to express boundless joy. How fortunate I am that what sustains me also provides my physical support; sharing my love of music with students, choir members and the congregation in the pews gives my life great meaning.

My students have taught me much about the joy of expression, the need for patience, the possibility of human connectivity through music and the importance of generativity. And so this year I ended the recital with my own performance of Mendelssohn’s Gondola Song in A Major- a gift to them in thanksgiving for their presence in my life.