At my first piano lesson, my dimpled fingerstrembled nervously over the keyboard and stumbled over every other note. My onlyconcern was that the coin the teacher had placed on the back of my hand notfall.
When I moved to the United States from Taiwan, my exuberance fordancing and acting fell mute as I faced strange sounds and gestures. I wasecstatic at the news of my first recital, because at the keyboard I did not haveto speak or understand. My affinity for the stage manifested itself that day. Iintuitively knew what gestures would bewitch my audience and they applauded asmall girl dressed in pink and gray velvet and her act of innocent bravura andcharisma. I knew I no longer had to hide behind silence. Making music in acrowded hall gave me the simple, priceless joy of being understood.
As Ientered my teens, practice sessions were no longer mere preparation forperformances, but were performances in themselves. The hands that 12 years beforewere unable to stretch an octave, that once struggled through scales and tiredafter 30 minutes, now easily reached beyond the eight-note stretch. These samehands recoiled as if burnt at the twang that accompanied the inadvertentshattering of the first bass string. Their fingertips had grown shiny with use;even the ridges of my fingerprints were smoothed away from hours of practice.Each pinky had a deep indentation where calluses had grown and peeled off dozensof times. My fingernails were etched with blood-and-flesh blossoms that seepedand dried between violent glissandos of the Liszt Totentanz.
At my concertyesterday, I broke into a wide smile as I recognized the audience before me. Iwould again channel unspoken emotions into music, and my performance would onceagain serve as my catharsis. Through the 88 keys, I had no hesitation expressingmy feelings. I had no need to worry that others would not understand my language,for music is the universal language. Music paints all the nuances of emotionswhich words and gestures cannot express.
As the restless currentsgradually subsided in the middle of Chopin's Nocturne in B Major and the light,playful motive returned I, too, returned to the earthly concert stage. I wassurprised again when I opened my eyes and found myself reflected in the polishedebony music stand. No longer did a girl peer shyly back; instead, my eyes settledon a face shiny with perspiration, with brows contorted and lips pursed invicarious agony. The broadened arpeggios fluttered in opposite directions, andthe last tinkle and bass lingered plaintively. The relief the fragile and subtlecoda brought to the audience was palpable even to me. As the applause broke intomy reverie and heightened my own relief, I knew again the ultimate satisfaction Ifirst felt as a child of five.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.