This is a personal memoir essay I wrote for a Parent Teachers Association Reflections Contest. I also submitted it for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards competition. I hope you enjoy it.
The mail has arrived. The thick envelope is finally here. Eagerly but carefully I open it and examine its contents. Sixty five pages in all. The book is thicker than I expected, but I smile with anticipation as I look through the contents, each crisp page smelling of fresh ink and feeling smooth to my touch. I am excited, but I know that an arduous task awaits. There is no time to lose. I must get started.
I begin by working my way through, page by page. It is rough at first and often unrecognizable. The slow repetition can be painful and disturbing to the senses. It is time consuming but it is necessary to proceed in this manner. Those that I live with often shudder at the sounds coming from the room, but we know that in time it will meld together. I persist.
I see her for the first time since I began the sixty five pages. I am excited to have ninety minutes of her time. We are beginning a project that we will work on together for the next several months. Her expertise and knowledge will guide me. I must remain focused and receptive to her every word. “Legato” she says. “Shape the phrases.” The scratching of her pencil on the pages can be distracting but it is essential for my understanding and accurate interpretation. She gives me a specific assignment and I return home. I begin the tedious process again.
Every day for several hours I do what I have learned. I must be accurate in order to increase my chances of being successful with the sixty five pages. Hours, days, weeks and months of work will be necessary. I must incorporate what I have learned over the past nine years while I work toward my goal. Rhythms, hands separately, strength, accuracy. Practicing methodically to a rhythmic pulse. After much mental and physical exertion, I can finally work my way through to the end. I can proceed in a more detailed manner. The reward will be worth the effort.
The phone rings. “No, I can’t go with you.” I tell my friends that I have to finish my work, memorize the cadenza, shape the phrases. They don’t understand, but they recognize my passion and don’t abandon me. I ponder all that must still be done. I return to the room, and again sit alone. Someone uninformed might wonder if this is some type of punishment I am subjecting myself to – solitary confinement in a room away from all others. But only I am capable of doing this. No one here can help me and only I can help myself. My friends are together but I am engaged in something more. I must move on and make progress. This is my passion and my future.
Hours, days, weeks and months pass. I am able to increase the tempo. 80-88-96-104. It is coming together.
I see her again and we review what I have worked on since the last time. “Watch the tempo and dynamics.” “You must have more feeling.” “No pedal there.” “LEGATO!” Sometimes I think I hear those words in my sleep. In her strong Eastern European accent she gives directions, makes demands. She can be harsh and strict but she expects me to work to my potential and will not accept anything less. I continue to return each week, knowing that her expertise is immeasurable and I will benefit greatly. And every week when we are done I return to the room, continuing the arduous process, remembering and reflecting on her every word. Time signatures, dynamics, tempi. Working on legato to create smooth transitions. It must all be done accurately, the way it was intended when the sixty five pages were written over one hundred years ago. I must continue to be disciplined and dedicated as I anticipate the end result of my work.
Finally the moment has arrived. Today is the day. Hours, days, weeks and months of work have come down to this moment, and I am well-prepared. As I wait for my cue, I remember more of her sage advice. “You must clear your head, listen to the notes. Play beautiful music and you will be fine.” My fingers tremble slightly but her words are reassuring and help to calm my nerves.
I stand to the side, obscured by the heavy velvet curtain, and look ahead. My tuxedo is neatly pressed, my shoes shined and my bowtie straight. I wear an outfit reserved for the most important occasions. My senses are overwhelmed and a mass of black and white abounds. Sounds can be heard throughout – violins, cellos, clarinets, saxophones – eighty musicians, experts themselves, full of confidence and rhythmically moving in unison. But to me it is blurred, muffled and distant as I wait alone. I focus and remove extraneous thoughts from my head. This is the moment for which I have worked toward for months.
I proceed to the center of the stage with long, confident strides and I turn to face the audience. I am astounded at its size. Seats are occupied with young and old music lovers from near and far who have come to hear the orchestra and enjoy the fruits of our labor. As I bow, I see my family and friends in the front row, smiling and clapping, showing their support for me and my months of work. And she is there, too, and with her reassuring smile I know I am ready. I take my place at the piano bench and the beauty of the nine foot Steinway is momentarily overwhelming. The magnificent ebony instrument sparkles under the glistening spotlights, and the lid is fully raised to allow the rich tones and harmonies to resonate through the filled performance hall. All eighty eight keys, bright and clean, await my touch. For the next thirty minutes they will serve as an extension of my fingers, my heart, my soul and my emotions. The conductor and I exchange glances indicating to each other that we are ready to start. I take a breath, and we begin to play. The beautiful melody of the concerto flows from the piano and multitude of instruments filling the entire concert hall – the culmination of months of work and dedication. But it is also at the expense of my personal life – the sacrificing of time with friends for pizza or basketball games, rushing through school work, skimping on chores – all to allow for more practice in order to interpret and memorize these sixty five pages. But I am living a dream and my life’s passion, right at this moment, on this stage, with my friends and family surrounding me.
The Grieg Piano Concerto is over. I have played the last measure, and the orchestra and I can now breathe a sigh of relief. I feel the sweat on my forehead from the lights and physical effort required to execute the demanding passages. I have played nearly every note on the keyboard. It seems like only a moment has gone by. A brief sense of relief passes through me, and I am overwhelmed. The months of hard work have culminated in a magnificent performance, for which I am grateful and privileged to be a part of. I stand, and the audience applauds with deep appreciation. I have played the music that I love and I am humbled.
She quickly finds me back stage. She is my piano teacher – my mentor and my guide. She is an inspiration and a support in my journey to become a professional musician and concert pianist, and I am learning from her experience. She has been at my side for months, imparting her wisdom and knowledge and care for me, in order help me attain my goals.
“Was it worth it?” she asks, referring to the months of faithful practice, and sacrifices that were needed for me to memorize and perform this beautiful piece of music – my first full concerto with an orchestra, and any musician’s dream performance.
“Yes, it was” I reply.
“Would you do it again?” she wonders.
Without hesitation I tell her that I absolutely would. The opportunity to play with an orchestra is an honor, and a rare occurrence bestowed only upon those truly dedicated to the art. It was magic to me, and a moment which I will always remember.
I leave the concert hall with a sense of satisfaction and pride in my accomplishment. I return home and look into the room. My piano, metronome, and countless music books filled with etudes, sonatas and concerti by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and others all await me. My work will begin again tomorrow as I learn a new piece of music and continue to pursue my dreams.