Life is filled with so many hard ‘little and big’ lessons. Some we learn through watching and others we learn by living. Today was a busy day which had me again rushing out the door coffee cup and papers in hand. After a crazy morning followed by a solid lunch hour of choir practices, I was out the school door with daughters in tow for the West Prince Music Festival. I had devoted my own dinner hour to the four school choirs, so I had little time to eat, clean up, do hair and practice with my own two girls before we were on our way to O’Leary. I had not allowed myself TOO much time (as that wouldn’t be like me AT ALL!), but I hadn’t left myself entirely to the last minute either. When we arrived, I was only 5 minutes behind schedule according to my calculations.
So you can imagine my surprise when, as we walked in the door, I heard my youngest daughter’s name being called from the front. I had barely stepped inside the facility, and was still wrestling with a stack of papers, my purse, a dripping wet coat and swinging water bottle when I saw my two daughters rushing to the front of the auditorium, with one of them making her way to the grand piano on stage, front and center.
I was myself in a daze, wondering how things had moved so quickly along that we were already at the time the youngest was to play. How could I have miscalculated the times so poorly? Then again…
To make matters worse- all manner of things was running through my head. I realized that the daughter that had been rushed on stage was also the one performing on stage for the first time. She was the one who gets embarrassed more easily of the two and she is the one most likely to be rattled by such an incident. So, with all these thoughts bouncing around in my head, I started up the aisle toward my daughter, who was now sitting at the piano so as to play her piece. You can imagine both our surprise when it was announced that actually, she WASN’T to play right then: that they had only called her name because they were just checking to see if she was there.
It was a courtesy call, so to speak.
This might be a minor incident in any other child’s life, but for the One of whom I write, it was horrifying. We sat down in our seat to wait the half an hour until she would officially play, but the damage was already done. She was mortified and began quietly sobbing into her sweater. I could think of nothing else to say but to murmur over and over again that is was okay, it was okay. And to hold her tight as I wracked my brain for the ‘right’ words to say.
For her, quite honestly, it wasn’t okay. She had been publicly embarrassed and this was not something she could easily overcome.
We eventually left the sanctuary and found a quiet place to talk about the experience. She shared her feelings and I tried to console her. Eventually, another mother came along and tried to convey the insignificance of such a minor mistake (that is, getting up on stage when it wasn’t your turn) while I nodded my head in affirming ways. My daughter wasn’t really buying it.
Eventually, we returned to the festivities. Only to find two other girls crying: one who had made a few mistakes in her piece and another quite possibly fraught with nerves. It was an interesting place to be for a while, and as a bystander, my heart went out to all the performers who are so very brave and valiant to take their music to the stage in such a public arena. It takes courage to perform in front of an audience.
All in all, my daughter was able to learn the protocols for performance on stage (unfortunately, through trial and error) but also she was able to see that she was not the only one going through a ‘moment’ this afternoon. These learning experiences are just part of discovery and growth, and they need not make us feel inadequate, incompetent or lacking in any way. Life goes on, as does the show- and we live and learn both through our mistakes as well as through our triumphs.
She ended up performing amazingly well. I was so proud of her and she was proud of herself. We worked through the awkwardness of the preliminaries and when we got to the performance, she was feeling relaxed and ready to go. When I asked her tonight if she would ever do this again, she responded with a yes.
Even if she doesn’t, I am glad that she was able to learn/confirm something about herself today that might not have been completely clear in her mind: that she is one resilient little gal. Made her mama proud.
And a pretty darn good piano player to boot! Did I mention…TWO GOLD STARS!!!!

The joy of the song…

The piano is a baby grand.  It stands majestic at center stage, ready for young pianists to strike its ivory keys.  An intimidating creature, its presence dominates and casts a spell interchangeably.  We take our seat in the church pews after the second class finishes.  We wait.

Fortunately, we have arrived in time to hear the second class play their selections.  It gives my two just enough time to mentally prepare, and yet not enough time for nerves to take over.  And in a blink of an eye, their turn comes.

My son walks to the front, unsure of himself and yet, not afraid of what might be.  He is to play middle of the pack.  I sit, muscles tight, stomach a ball of tensions.  And then, his name is called.  He walks quickly to the piano, sits without adjusting the seat and begins to play.  I start to relax.  He has not forgotten any notes, and for that I am grateful.  He will not be disappointed with the silver he receives.

Immediately after this class is completed, it is my daughter’s turn to walk to the front.  She is no less anxious, and I will be grateful when I hear the first note.  The rest will follow.  She plays beautifully.  We are both surprised with the designation of gold.  This was a relatively new piece for her.

The morning unfolds surprisingly.  They leave at mid-morning break feeling confident and light.  So far, so good.  We come back for our second session, and nerves are more relaxed this time.  No tight stomach muscles for me, anyway.  I even read a little in between selections.

My daughter plays first this time.  She hits every note, but she is not feeling her music.  The aujudicator calls her on a musical term she does not know.  Daughter feels embarrassed from both a lack of her own musical knowledge as well as from the commentary on her playing.  Bronze, this time.  There are tears when she joins me afterwards.  Big, fat crocodile tears.  They stain her dress, while the sparkles from her skirt scatter across her face as she wipes the wetness away.  I tell her how proud I am, but she has lost her edge.  She is no longer confident.

My son is up again, and he too is rattled.  He misses quite a few notes, but recovers and finishes his piece.  When he exits the stage and sits with his class, I can see the deluge he is holding back behind red eyes.  He tries to hold it together.  But a mother knows.

I realize that now is a pivotal point in the day.  What happened before, and what comes next hinge on this moment.  I am grasping for words that will take away their needless shame due to unmet expectations they had for themselves.  My son has no time to process these feelings of his.  He is called again to play his third and final number.

I am dealing with those pesky stomach nerves of mine again.  This time, my son competes against a more advanced student.  It could be the demise of the day.  I try to exhale.  Focus on breathing.  I watch him, and then avert my eyes.  What could he be thinking?  I just want this to go well.  No other expectations of him than for him to be pleased with his own playing and leave the stage confident.

He plays.  It is beautiful.  But is it enough to win her over, this accomplished pianist and professor standing before him?  She takes a great deal of time to deliberate his mark and offer final comments.


I watch him walk back, and I realize that if he had not played again, and so quickly after the piece in which he missed the notes, he might not have wanted to get back on the piano bench and finish the competition.  But because he has no time to think, to process, he gets right back up there and plays his final number without pause for too much concern.

He looks at me, and I can tell that he is at peace with this one.

My daughter has one last song left to play.  She, on the other hand, does have time to think.  In the two and a half hours in between second and third piece, she tells me she hates piano and that she wants to quit.  I try not to lecture too much, but it does come out in dribs and drabs.  We arrive back from lunch in plenty of time to watch a few of the more advanced classes.  In the preceding two classes to her final one, two young piano players compete.  One plays with confidence, vigour and emotion.  The other lacks skill, technique and precision.  She is having a hard time feeling her music.  My daughter watches.  She sees her persistently finish the two classes, and each time she receives bronze for her efforts.  The young girl takes her seat without so much as blinking an eye.  Whatever emotion she might be feeling is well concealed.

And then it is my own girl’s turn.  She also competes in a class with those at higher levels.  She is anxious, but yet she knows this piece and has interpreted it wisely.  As she plays, I can feel the music.  It moves me. She bows, and then takes her seat with the others.  We both wait for the final verdict.

Silver, as well.

On the ride home, she sits quietly in the second row of our van.  From the front, I tell her how proud I am.  I talk about my own experiences playing in the festival as a young girl.  I tell her that to courageously tackle something (and finish well that thing that brings you fear), that is the best I could wish for.  Tenacity.  Perserverance.  It is what makes my children top of the class.

Although gold, silvers and bronze are top notch in my books, greater still is the ability to embrace fear and not allow it to control your actions.  What you don’t know about my son is that a year and a half ago, he played the piano and made mistakes that were so jarring, he almost wrote piano off for good.  He made it clear to me that he would never, ever play the piano again in public.  He almost quit piano lessons, but in the end, he agreed to stay so long as he would never be pressured into playing for an audience.

And here we are.  He has just finished paying three pieces at the music festival. I could not be any prouder of either one of my two worthy children.  They have played the song of life with courage and resolve. It is the most beautiful of songs to hear.