“For our next act, the performer will be playing Mozart’s “Sonata K310.” Everybody, please welcome our freshman, Kevin!” My heart was racing as I stepped onto the stage, the focal point of hundreds of eager eyes, ready to devour (or spit out) the next act. The moment I sat on the bench, my mind began racing with thoughts of mistakes and failure. After the longest five seconds, I stroked the first key with trembling fingers. My initial uncertainty grew into pure agitation as I struck a wrong note. I plowed on anyway. At the end of my piece, the audience applauded and cheered, but I was so busy chastising myself for my blunders, I couldn’t enjoy the praise. To my great surprise, I won first prize in the talent show, but even that did not cure my angst about my performance.
As my father drove me home from the event, I confessed my performance anxiety. He was taken aback. “The more you are on stage, the more confident you will become,” he insisted. I did not take his advice to heart until my junior year. I had gained a reputation as an accomplished pianist at my high school, and had been a guest star at events such as pageants, grandparents’ day, retirement home concerts, and major ceremonies. For the first few performances, I was self-conscious and afraid of making mistakes. Over time, I realized that regardless of my blunders, the audience always appreciated my playing. I have a particularly fond memory of an elderly woman who professed her admiration for my interpretation of one of Chopin’s Nocturnes. Slowly, I became more sure of myself.
For me, the essential challenge of a pianist isn’t just stage confidence, but also personal perseverance. During my sophomore year, I began my longest piano campaign – Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1,” a composition that can be daunting even for a concert pianist. I was petrified by its technical difficulty. During the first few months, I was pessimistic and considered choosing a different piece, but my father’s encouragement motivated me to persist. After a year and a half of strenuous practice, I finally had the piece in my grasp. This achievement motivated me to master new hobbies, such as game programming and music making.
• • •
“For our next act, the performer will be playing Chopin’s ‘Nocturne No. 20.’”
It was my junior year talent show, and my heart was racing with adrenaline as I stepped onto the stage. I sat down at the piano and cleared my head of uncertainty. After several seconds, I caressed the first note, and simultaneously my worries disappeared. Each keystroke transcended my being into a parallel universe. Here I vicariously felt the passion of Chopin, infusing his notes with emotion. I did not win that talent show. Extrinsically, I did not win the $100 prize, but intrinsically, I learned to appreciate the music instead of vainly anticipating blunders.
No matter what I become in the future, half of me will always be a pianist. I am prepared for college because of my experiences with piano. That perseverance and confidence have readied me for the rigorous course work of college, and have accustomed me to public activities. Most importantly, being a pianist has taught me what to value in the pursuing a higher education. Grades and money are like the talent show prize money: they are extrinsic. The experience and knowledge I receive from my job or college courses are like my appreciation for music – they are intrinsic.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.