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- Summer Guide
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Prelude to Now
There are certain artists who somehow resonate deeply with our eternal souls, and desires. The list is long and full of big names that managed through times to lift us up and make our heart melt, or smile. Musical artists sound divine on stage but being an artist is hard. You play scales and exercises. You make mistakes, you are flawed. But most importantly, you strive to make yourself better, to become someone new.
This summer my teenage piano playing daughter topped the list of big names that inspire me. Eight years ago she started piano lessons, she loved music. Like all little girls her age, she dreamed of playing the piano and we decided to give it a go.
At the beginning it was exhilarating, she had a well developed hand, a good memory, and sense of rhythm. She went on stage with Lavender's Blue and her shy nature dissipated.
So she kept training and practicing. She had a story in her head, about becoming a great pianist one day, a tale of self-realization, an imaginary trajectory that helped her move forward. Soon our old piano, whose keys Julia could barely press all the way down, was worn out to the point that 5 strings snapped, and we were surprised that had to buy a new piano, concerto style this time.
Kids’ birthday parties and Christmas parties started to collide with preparation for competitions and winter concerts. It was a hard choice for a little girl. But she loved music. She wanted to improve, so she chose to stay home instead, and practice. In the next few years, the friends she began playing piano with, slowly started to cave in under the pressure and monotony of endless repetition and slowly let it go. But Julia kept faith in the story in her head. She listened to Beethoven in her room and played air piano with her fingers dreaming of being like the pianist on the CD.
So we kept scheduling her lessons, entering her in competitions, and driving her to concerts out of country. We bought her lots and lots of music, and music books and tickets to music concerts. We watched her contend with friction and disharmony in front of her piano; in rage at the clumsiness of her hands with every new piece, longing for the eventual reward. To us her playing sounded sweet and lovely, but she was rarely pleased.
“Don't say it's good when it isn't!” she would exclaim. Her dissatisfaction, ended up sharpening our ears like knives, we became much better connoisseurs. And her unrest made her feel at times painfully hurt, and at times alive and heroic.
She used to enjoy painting, but as her homework increased, she didn't have time for both, and decided to focus on piano. She enjoyed playing tennis, but she started injuring them during tennis, and decided to let go of another activity for the sake of playing the piano. Musical practice with its rigor and devotion was often solitary.
But slowly our afternoons of endless scales of torture turned into sheer delight, drinking tea and cookies, in the couch as a family while Julia played something, for pure joy, because nothing ever felt so good to her, as making music.
At the beginning of summer this year she ended up hurting her hand, right before her main competition. She kept practicing with terrified caution. I kept applying anti-pain cream on her hand at night and she kept her arm in a sleeve when she wasn’t practicing as to not strain the muscles further.
As we walked that day in the backyard of the University of Arts, making our way up to the competition room, Julia looked up abruptly with her nose in the air and listened.
“That's my piece, Mom! Someone’s playing my piece. And really well.”
Her eyes looked scared and almost wet with tears. We took a moment on a bench in a corner. I held her hurt hand softly, my heart just as broken.
“Don't worry about it. Just go do your thing.”
“I can't. ‘My Thing’ is highly technical, I need a good hand for ‘My Thing’’’
My Julia. You could always count on her to read the situation with a cold head, even with a broken hope.
"’Your Thing’ is the reason why you started in the first place. Why did you continue? Why are we here? ‘Your Thing’ is music."
Did she listen? She's a stubborn teenager now. I don't always know. She held a bunch of tissues in preparation against slippery hands. She got up when she heard her name being called. She didn't even look at me as I was crossing my fingers in a form of prayer.
But then she went and played. She danced across the keys, and stopped maybe a breath too long, when her fingers hurt. But the feeling, oh the feeling, the sadness, the hope, the heart. Her soul bare on stage, for everyone to see its beauty.
As a rule, there are no applauses after performances in competitions. But some people applauded her elated at the end. It was that touching.
She didn't get a prize this summer. Just a warm commendation for the beautiful performance. But it was ok for Julia. She was actually overjoyed. She knew she pulled off something extraordinary.
And I actually got my prayer. Not the one as she was walking on stage - I don't think I was even able to utter one in that moment - I mean the other prayer, the one that's maybe the second in the heart of every parent, after good health and long life. The prayer that your baby will one day grow up, and bring herself to maturity with discipline and sacrifice.