The whole place had a feeling of being trapped. Narrow halls led to dead ends; ceilings were stiflingly low. Yet, as I stepped into the piano room, that feeling was replaced by warmth. It was a well-lit space with lush carpeting and chandeliers, and in the corner was an old grand piano surrounded by sofas. Many senior citizens had already positioned their wheelchairs around the room, waiting quietly for our performance. Some stared into space, expressionless, others mumbled to no one in particular. Weaving my way through them, I gingerly sat next to my teacher.
The concert began. I watched as the seniors began to tap their feet and nod to the music’s rhythm, awakening from what had seemed a perpetual slumber. I remember one woman smiling widely, her fingers waving as if she were conducting an orchestra. Every so often, she’d lean over and whisper loudly to her friend, “Ain’t that pretty?” I couldn’t help but grin, and for a moment some of my tension melted. Then I noticed that one of her legs was so grotesquely swollen that her foot barely squeezed into her shoe. Yet, for those short minutes, she seemed to have forgotten she was in a wheelchair and her spirits lifted beyond the boundaries of physical limitation. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I began to understand the immense power of music over a human being. All those cliches about music connecting with one’s soul ... in that instant their meaning became apparent.
Then it was my turn. My stomach clenched as I walked to the piano. Suddenly worrying about messing up and playing too softly or loudly seemed trivial, yet I knew so much depended on this music. I felt eyes watching me from all around the room as the seniors waited for me to take them to a faraway place.
When I began to play, my fingers trembled under the weight of anticipation. I tried to focus on the music, but could not. As I played, I imagined each note permeating the corners of the room and spilling out into the hallways, banishing the dreariness I’d felt when I stepped through the door. Somehow, my fingers found their strength.
As I walked back to my seat an old woman reached out and grasped my hand.
“Do you think you’re pretty?” she asked. I smiled and shrugged, not knowing what to say. “Well, you are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re all beautiful, beautiful children.” She looked at all of us, her eyes shining.
Glancing back at the seniors’ faces as I left, I hoped they would all still be here to listen to me play when the next holiday season came and that I’d experience that same unforgettable feeling as I watched them sway to the music. Perhaps by next year they will no longer know who I am, or the songs I played, but for all of us, memories of that day will bring impressions of joy, a reminder of the incredible power within each of us to elevate one another.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.