Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
She struck the black key, the sharpness of its tone creating a disagreeable sound in her ear. With the duet exhibition next week she wanted to be prepared. Her teacher was so encouraging and believed in her so much, but she was hard on herself and had set high expectations of earning a perfect score. Instead of sounding flawless though, each time she played that black key, her part sounded awkward and very imperfect.
Frustrated, she walked away and flopped down on the couch, her mind quick to jump in with a fresh round of self-defeating thoughts. “Forget it. You’re nothing special! “ the voice in her head echoed. “Stop expecting more from life.”
Brimming with tears, her eyes only had to scan the room to see reminders of her past attempts to find self-fulfillment. Slung on the coat rack was a camera she’d abandoned after failing to become a famous photo journalist. Draped on the chair was a blanket, riddled with holes and snags after she tried to knit designer blankets for Christmas gifts. Despite her attempts to take charge in her pursuit of personal satisfaction, something was always missing, and she no longer had the energy to strive for the perfection she thought she needed to be happy. She was tired of playing the game and now she was tired of playing the piano.
Although she was discouraged, she continued to practice during the following week because she did not want to disappoint her teacher. It was important to her to please him. He seemed to see something in her that she did not see herself. Her goal was just to get it over with the least amount of humiliation possible. She had done the best she could and hoped he would understand.
On the day of the event, she arrived with dread. The program began and she sat impatiently, listening to the students playing while she waited for her turn. Unlike her duet, their music was both peaceful and powerful, without any unwelcomed sounds to ruin it. She closed her eyes to absorb it all, finding it hard to imagine that she would ever play so rewardingly.
Finally it was her turn. Her instructor invited her to the stage, giving her a warm smile and a gentle squeeze with his hand, and they began to play. With her right hand she played the same music in front of her as it was written, but her ears couldn’t believe what they heard. Her confidence grew steadily as each note, in harmony with her teacher, sounded bright and bold. As the first black key approached, her heart raced, but soon the moment had passed and the music had continued in complete accord. When the piece ended, she and her teacher bowed to the audience and walked back stage together, her face wearing a look of disbelief at the music they had created.
“You did well, my faithful student,” her teacher commended her, “but you seem surprised by what just happened.”
“When I played at home, some of the notes sounded horrible, but today when we played together, the sound was beautiful! How can that be?” she asked.
“Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that notes in a duet are part of the plan when they are played alone. As a student, it is important to know your part without needing to make it perfect all by yourself, and trust your teacher that the finished piece will be in harmony. What we see for ourselves on the page, or hear in our own ears is not all there is.”
As she closed her eyes to fall asleep that night, she replayed the duet, amazed at what had transpired and by what her teacher had said. True, she may not ever become a famous pianist, or change the world with her photography, but just maybe life could still be something special. Maybe it already was. After today, she believed that there was more to life than meets the eye, or the ear. She couldn’t wait to wake up tomorrow to practice the new music her instructor had given her. The best was yet to come.
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