A small house adjacent to the campus music building housed a baby-grand piano and a salt-and-pepper-greying, bright and cheerful piano teacher. I knocked timidly on the door, waiting for someone to open, holler, or invite. (Maybe what I was really looking for was a sign.) A few moments passed, and I repeated the knock, a little harder, mimicking the pounding of a nervous heart in my chest.
I had grown up around instruments. I received my first 3/4 size violin at the tender age of eight, with accompanying private lessons. I knew how to tell a half-rest from a quarter, a whole note from a sixteenth, and how to count in time with the measure. But the only person who taught me piano–ever–was my father (in what little “spare” time he had between building a demanding business and community, family, and religious activities). I had even taken a half-hour or hour voice lesson during each semester in college. But no piano.
Still, I promised my mother I would take at least one semester of piano. And, graduation was right around the corner.
My heart took another leap as a daisy-yellow VW Bug (vintage) pulled into the small driveway and under the carport adjacent to the little house.
The piano teacher bounced out, pulled reading glasses from a chain off her chest, and asked, “Are you my 3:30?”
“Yes.” The word squeaked out like a babbling child.
“Well, let’s have in, then.” She chuckled at her self-made rhyme, and I followed her to the front step where she unlocked the studio and ushered me inside the brick-red door and toward the piano bench.
“Did you bring something to play for me?”
I only nodded and pulled an old, green hymn book, the one I pulled off its usual place atop my piano earlier that morning. I turned to a familiar hymn, one I had practiced many an hour just to say I could play a hymn. I rested my fingers (and untrimmed fingernails) atop the black and white pallet, ready to paint some music for a woman I barely knew.
Painting–now that’s something I knew how to do. I was even getting a minor in art. But I didn’t have a brush or smock or canvas to speak of here.
I got through one verse, only making minor mistakes. As I lifted my hands from the keys, she pulled her reading glasses to the end of her nose so she could look me in the eye over the lenses. She paused and then offered, “Good. But you’re making this really difficult on yourself. You don’t have to shift your fingers so much. Just find a fingering that works, and shift less.”
Okay. But how?
She pulled the hymn book toward her and thumbed through until she found, “Be Still, My Soul.”
“Let’s try this,” she offered.
“I can’t play this.”
“Sure you can. Try.”
I placed my fingers on the opening notes with my best, brave-girl effort. It was still a sad attempt.
“Okay, try this way,” she said as she offered new fingerings and let me know when to lift and press on the pedal.
She continued to coach me through the notes until our half-hour lesson finished, with her committing me to cut my nails and practice, practice, practice.
I leaned into the door to exit, waved a goodbye, and saw what must have been her 4:00 approaching.
I felt the exuberance of accomplishment, of learning something new, of honing skills that had been lying deep inside myself for years, untapped, untouched.
And, I was excited for next Tuesday at 3:30 p.m.
Same studio, new lesson.