The Confined Piano Teacher This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 12, 2012
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My fingers are like the ice that lines our tree branches on this wintry day. I hear my knuckles crack as I stretch my fingers before placing them on the ivory keys. The keys feel ashy and worn and neglected. I spent months ignoring this instrument because I thought there was more out there for me. But maybe there isn’t. Maybe there’s only one thing in this world I’m meant for.
My piano teacher hasn’t touched the instrument ever since her accident. Maybe if I keep coming to her lessons, one day she’ll play for me. Her ability to fabricate melodies from this instrument once compelled me. That time seems so hollow and distant.

“Which scale should I play?” I ask her.


I let my hands glide over the keys as I play the scale of notes that don’t seem like they go together, but somehow fit so well.
My instructor requests that I repeat the scale because I didn’t follow proper fingering. I repeat it an extra time after I stumbled upon a note. After three tries, she tells me to stop. Not because the scale was perfect, but because I have had to play it three times in order for it to sound somewhat decent.
She leans back in her chair and brushes a stray of hair out of her face. She clicks her tongue and glances around her room. Stacks of piano books line the walls and cases of sheet music litter the floor. This room once smelled of cinnamon, but now the damp scent of mold and rain is all I can discern. Ever since the accident, my teacher became careless about how the room looked. She didn’t have the physical capability or desire to live in an orderly manner.
Her two orange cats prowl along the carpet and meow every so often. While I wait for her response, she picks up one of her cats and strokes behind its ears as it purrs against her stomach.
However, instead of lecturing me, she hands me my book filled with compositions from the Romantic Era.
“What did you work on while you didn’t have lessons?” she asks.
Honestly, I didn’t even open my piano at my house. While my teacher was sick and my mother preoccupied, I relished spending time without an obligation. I would wake up each morning and leave the house by ten o’clock so that I could spend all my time at the beach rather than confined inside my dreary house. There was no pressure or responsibility towards anyone. I didn’t have to please my mother or my teacher. All I felt guilty about was leaving behind my little brother with my overbearing mother. But still, I didn’t mind so much. I had wanted to be free for so long and finally my wish came true.
Before that liberating summer, my mother would hound me to practice until my fingers throbbed from playing for hours. My knuckles would be stiff and the tips of my fingers sore from playing octaves on the keyboard.
Now, as my teacher waits for my answer, I can feel her penetrating gaze trying to dissect my every reaction. She already knows that I did nothing for five months. I abandoned my supposed love for frivolity. My entire future rides on playing this instrument, but I neglected it because for once in my life, I wanted to feel freedom that so many other teenagers took for granted.
“I see,” she says. Her disappointment infects me and I hate that I am susceptible to it. Why can’t I just ignore her disillusioned glances? Why do I feel like I must please her? I should play for me and only me.
“I guess I must show you how to play the piano once again. After all this time, I thought you were actually dedicated,” she says with a scoff.
I want to tell her that I am devoted to this. How can she be so harsh? Out of the fifteen years of learning piano, I stopped playing for five months. Five months out of almost two hundred months of piano. She doesn’t understand that I want her approval just as much as I want my mother’s love.
“Move over,” she says and I oblige. I scoot off the seat and drag it backward, so there is space for her to move in her wheelchair. The chair is lower than the piano bench, but she does not seem to notice such a disparity.
Her young fingers extend over the aged keys and she closes her eyes. At one point, I did the same thing. I could see the music float in my memory and the notes dance along lines of imaginary sheet music. At one point, I loved piano and saw nothing else was greater than it. I guess I changed, but my teacher has remained the same. She could never change, despite everything she has gone through.
She plays Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat. Two years ago, I played this piece in front of an audience at the performing arts center. At the time, I hated the methodical order of the piece. I wanted to play a piece that had fickle and evanescent passion. Yet, when I notice my teacher crinkle her eyebrows together and purse her lips together, I want to feel that way again. I don’t want to feel detached anymore.
I want to be in love again.
She finishes her piece and turns to me. “Has anything changed so far?” she wonders. “Are you still going to give up because you’re…what’s the word? Jaded?”

I shake my head no and she doesn’t smile. That’s her way. Stoic and dispassionate. But when she plays, her emotions overflow and enter me. Blood colors my cheeks and my fingers tremble at my sides, urging me to sit at that piano bench.

Most of the time, I hate her for her lack of enthusiasm or care. But whenever I see her in her wheelchair, I know that I could never understand her situation. I glance to my left and see the photo frame atop her bookshelf. In the photo, she is seated next to her husband with a small toddler in her lap. Her illuminated face overshadows everything else. I have never seen her that way. I don’t think I’ll ever see that kind of joy from her.

“Let’s begin then,” she says, startling me from my thoughts. I take the seat at the piano bench as she moves back to her spot.
Whenever I leave my lesson, she is left alone in this house with two cats. She has no human contact. She’s alone. All she has is her piano and the wheelchair she’s confined to. I abandoned my love, but she didn’t. She has returned back to it because it is all she has left. But I have so much more than she does and I still decided that piano was worthless. When I see her devotion, I recognize my immaturity. Piano is not my life. I know that. But it is my sanctuary.
She may not know it, but my teacher has given me a life with purpose again.

As I lay my stiff fingers on the keys and play Chopin, I know now that she saved me.

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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Epiclyawesome said...
Mar. 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm
That was a great story. Loved it, but now I'm curious as to what happened to the teacher. Bottom line, EXCELLENT WORK! If you can, could you read my peice? It's called Story of the Demons. Thanks
half.noteThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Mar. 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Scales. *shudder*

Your story was inspiring.  And I could relate because I've been playing piano since the first Grade.  I assume you are a piano player as well?  Anyways, I also wrote a piano story called "For Only You."  I'd appreciate it if you could read and comment.

Thanks, and good job with this story.

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