“Dana, why do you want to play the flute?”
“Mostly because of my father… I like the flute.”
“You really need to practice more if your want to improve.”
“Yes, Miss Olsen, but it’s hard sometimes.”
Twelve year old Dana was one of many students I’ve taught during my twenty years as a music teacher. Although Dana had been a reliable student, she hadn’t improved during the first few months of attending the Olsen Academy of Music. Following our brief conversation, she seemed to lose interest and eventually ceased coming.
Almost eight months later, I was preparing the end of year concert. I sent invitations to families of students that I’d taught during the year. It’s customary, though not compulsory, for current students to play a piece of their choice for the recital. Two weeks before the concert I received an unexpected telephone call.
“Hello, Miss Olsen, it’s Dana.”
“Dana, what can I do for you?”
“I want to play in the concert.”
For a moment I wasn’t sure what to say. I just sat there with the handset to my ear. Dana was quiet, too.
“Dana,” I finally answered, “I’d love to have you play, but only current students can participate. You and your family are quite welcome to attend, of course.”
The change in Dana’s voice was enthusiastic but it also held a little anxiety.
“I’ve been practicing, Miss Olsen—honest. I haven’t been able to get to lessons because of my mother being so busy.”
I’m not sure why, but I agreed. The program had already been typed but not yet finalized. Adding Dana’s name, I saved the document to a disc. The following morning I took the disc to the printers to have the program professionally printed and mailed out. I quickly scrawled Dana’s details to the list of addressees.
The concert progressed without a hitch. I was impressed with the effort and enthusiasm the students put into their music preparation; some had chosen to combine their talents with duets. I was about to introduce the last student on the program when I was suddenly aware Dana hadn’t arrived. I have to admit, I felt a small pang of guilt at my relief. I started to announce the evening’s closure, when Dana appeared at the side door with her mother.
Dana proceeded to the stage and ascended the stairs. She stood beside me, her flute and music in hand. I noticed her eyes were slightly bloodshot and revealed a hint of sadness.
“Are you all right to play, Dana?” I had asked.
“Yes, Miss Olsen.”
“And, what will you play for us tonight?”
Dana faced the audience. “Handel’s Concerto, 4th movement in G Minor.”
I watched her place the sheet music onto the stand. The audience waited patiently as she adjusted her flute. Moving to the side of the stage, I desperately tried to think up a quick fix. By the third bar, I was spellbound. Music filled the auditorium. Her skill left me amazed. Her pitch and timing were almost perfect. Part of the way through the enchanting performance, I noticed the flute that she held so elegantly was not her usual. It was an older, more sophisticated instrument which included a B-foot that extended the flute by about two inches and softened its tone. I found myself disappointed in not having the opportunity to hear the full fourteen minutes of the four movements as she played the driving conclusion with precision.
Dana lowered her instrument and the audience clapped enthusiastically. Walking toward her, I couldn’t help but smile. The audience fell silent.
“Dana, you’ve been practicing. That was absolutely beautiful, but why did you choose this particular piece?”
“Well, Miss Olsen… a year ago my father got cancer and it was hard for me to practice because of his pain. In April, he went into the hospital for chemotherapy. Handel’s Concerto has always been his favorite piece of music. I wanted to be good enough to play it when he came home.”
I glanced down to see her mother weeping quietly in the front row. When I turned back to Dana I saw the sadness had returned to her eyes.
“Daddy died this morning—this is Daddy’s flute. Do you think he heard me play?”
I held her as the tears flowed. The audience rose to their feet. The answer came as the whole auditorium erupted in applause.
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