The room seemed to stretch on forever, making the piano seem much more out of reach than it was, alone in the corner. There it stood, so perfectly out of place, yet so perfectly fitting. It leaned its back sadly against the glass wall of the stairwell, begging to be touched. The wood was yellow and grainy, a layer of dust covering the top. Its keys, which should have glowed with the contrast of stark white against black, whined a dull yellowish, the black as grim as the dirty wood.
I sat down and began to play the first few measures of a Haydn concerto. A few keys stuck when I touched them, several others produced no sound. The intervals were wrong, some higher than they should have sounded, some lower, but few correct. As I continued to play, it seemed the piano was crying, ashamed of its unkempt state.
I sighed. It had been as long as this instrument had been in use since I had seriously played. My sad attempts to produce music were as sad as the piano’s lack of care.
It seemed only yesterday I was a musical prodigy. Different lessons three times a week, practicing every day, and well known as a talent in the community, I was the shining star of my family. But somewhere in the past few years, that had changed.
I remember playing “Guess the composer” in the car with my mother, a concert pianist and music professor.
“Who wrote that?” she would ask.
“Mozart,” (or whatever the composer’s name happened to be) I would cry, and she would laugh and ask how I knew that after so few notes. I would just giggle and absorb every minute of the music that poured from the speakers.
My favorite piece of music in my younger days was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. My enthusiasm for this piece was unequaled. Once, when my mother’s friend conducted this in concert in the auditorium of the Slippery Rock University music building, I made a complete fool of myself by sharing my knowledge of this piece with my mother, a bit too loudly, for I also shared it with the rest of the audience. At the beginning of the piece, there is a grand opening and then a pregnant pause before the music softens and goes on. During that pause, the hamsters turned the wheel in my little head and I yelled to my mother, “That’s Sheherazade!”
During high school I attended the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts as a voice major. I was well liked by the students, and had never received such wonderful comments about my singing from people my own age. I knew music was the life for me, and it was all I wanted to do.
But once I graduated high school, I had no outlet in which to do it. I received rejection letters from a few of the schools I auditioned for, and cancelled any upcoming auditions in fear of further rejection. It was too much. I couldn’t bear being told I wasn’t good enough, that I was only as good as 100,000 other people who wanted to study music as well. So I gave up the idea of continuing music as a career.
Maybe the piano felt my discouragement, for the next piece I played sounded more tuneful, and fewer keys refused to sound at my fingertips. I smiled, wistfully, knowing that no matter what course of study or career I choose to take, music will always be in me as long as I take pride in my talent and past achievements, and glory in the joy of producing music. Even if the only audience is myself and the instrument I play.
I closed the lid down on the almost white keys and brushed some of the dust from the piano’s surface. As long as one person knows the piano is there, it will not be forgotten. Perhaps it will be the same for me.