I learned today that my piano teacher passed away. I rode my bike to her house every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 from the age of 10 to 17. I would sit in her living room and wait for my lesson, trying to remember what it was I was supposed to practice, feverishly scrambling to finish my theory assignment, and hoping she wouldn’t ask me to play Chopin.
I was not a skilled pianist. It did not come easy, or naturally. I did, and still do love music. I give her much credit for my appreciation for music and for the fact that I can still play, a little. My piano teacher was an accomplished first soprano as well as a skilled pianist. She was also wheel chair bound from childhood polio. I never really thought about her wheelchair, and I certainly never thought of her as disabled. She could sing higher than I ever could and play beautifully. She taught me more than how to hold my hands on the piano or how to count off beats. She taught me to appreciate and respect the discipline of creating beautiful music. Wasn’t I lucky?
She was never overly complimentary, nor was she ever overly critical. We just came together, after school…after long days of lunch rooms and, PE and math, and smelly boys and catty girls and we would play music in her living room. We would look at the notes and try to find what the composer intended for that particular piece of music. I would leave her house, committed to practicing longer and better than I had the week before. At the end of the day, our time together was less about succeeding or failing, it was simply about making music.
I think about our children and how we, or at least I, am always trying to tell them to “do their best,” “to reach for the stars,” “to work their hardest.” I think about the fact that my kids are taking standardized tests all day today and then will come home and practice their instruments and we will pull papers from their backpacks and if they got a star on their paper, we will put their paper on the refrigerator and if they play well we will say “great job,” and I think “this is crazy!” The question should be: “Did you have fun?” “Did you fall down and get back up?” “Did you help a friend along the way?” “Did you think about the kid on the play ground who is left out?” “Did you pray for your teacher?” “Did you eat ONE vegetable?” “Did you take care of yourself?” Then, that was a successful day. You made music.
I preach every Sunday and I try to get people to think about their faith. I try to encourage them to move closer to the Divine. I try to encourage them to think about God when they are emptying the dishwasher or getting gas, and sometimes I don’t know if I make any difference in that area. Sometimes I feel like I completely fail. It’s not the failing that matters, it’s the honest, hopeful, desire to make music. – Or in my line of work, we call it Grace.
It’s then that I just have to sit at the piano, and simply play music. Maybe I will miss a note, who cares! Maybe I will only play the right hand, good for me! Maybe I will only make it through the first page, right on!
Go fail something today. Go make a mistake. Go attempt, fall down and attempt again. Don’t be your best. Just be. It’s enough. Play beautiful music for the joy and beauty of music and teach your children to do the same.