Playing the Part | Teen Ink

Playing the Part

May 30, 2021
By nishi_pinkgirl BRONZE, Scarsdale, New York
nishi_pinkgirl BRONZE, Scarsdale, New York
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

My fingers hurt, but it doesn’t matter. My wrists are about to collapse, but I keep them up with every bit of energy my body can muster. During the few breaks I take, mostly to eat meals, I drum the notes out on the kitchen table.   All to make sure that those words, those sickening words told in a sickly-sweet voice, don’t come true…

“Honey, you’re not playing at an Honors level. If you perform like that, how will you stay or even get into the program?”

Those words, released from my piano teacher’s lips every Thursday, have echoed through my ears every time I’ve gotten near the piano, which is...every day. Every time I sit on the textbook on top of that bench, hands positioned to lift the glossy black lid off the instrument, I feel an almost magnetic repulsion, a sensation of intense fear, dislike, and nausea all rolled into one. Somehow, I still manage to lift up the lid.

Deep breaths, I tell myself every time I lift the lid, uncovering the daunting black and white keys. Now, I need those deep breaths more than ever. Preparing a video audition for the Honors program is not for the faint of heart. My dad is sitting in the chair right next to the piano, his face etched with lines of annoyance. I get it. I’d be annoyed as well if I had to record my untalented daughter’s piano playing five times per sitting, staying motionless lest noises disturb the recording. Still, though, it’s not like he hasn’t brought this on himself. For example, with the last recording, our interactions went something like this:

“Do you think that take had enough...what’s that word...dynamics?”, my dad asked. For once, his parroting of random piano vocab words he’d heard my teacher say made sense.

“I don’t know. It was the only time I was able to get all the notes right, though.”

“Well, send that recording to your teacher, and she can be the judge.”

By now my teacher was probably nearing insanity due to the number of recordings I had sent to her for approval. Some of the recordings were instantly vetoed by her, while others garnered ambiguous responses such as “Hmm, I’m trying to think about it”, or “Much improvement from four months ago!”. Only one recording I sent had gotten the coveted “Not bad!” response. Nevertheless, I clicked the send button.

My teacher responded immediately, with a “Not bad!”. Yes! 

“Well, what did she say?”.

“She said not bad! Which is pretty good from her,” I exclaimed.

“Just a not bad? Just not bad? I need guarantees. Does she think you’ll get into Honors or not?”

“You know as well as I do that if I ask her directly, she’ll say some junk like ‘needs more improvement’.”

“Well, you’ll need to record a few more times at the very least.”

I’m snapped out of my reverie by my dad’s voice. “Let’s hope this take gets us somewhere. We only have today to record.”

  I nod. The intimidation is practically emanating off of him, so I make myself keep quiet and play. I poke and prod on at the keys. I sway my arms with fake passion. I add dramatic fortes and demure pianos. I conjure up dark and light colors. All the while, I just want it, this nightmare, to end.

Those words pop into my head again, midway through the second piece I’m playing. Suddenly, my fingers start to slip and my hands begin to stiffen into weird positions. The semi-decent sounding music coming from the keys earlier has now turned into some off-key horror movie theme. I need to stop. I can’t cover those mistakes any more.

He doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t have to. The irritation in my dad’s eyes is clear, and there’s another layer of something under that, disappointment I think. Wordlessly, I turn back to the piano, forcing myself to do well this time around. After that day, if I ever hear as much as a note on the piano being played, I internally swear I will either explode or find a way to break the piano with my own bare hands. I would like to say that this sentiment is a one-time thing, but it has come up so many times in the past five years, I’ve lost track of the number.


I was four when I started playing the piano. We were a duo put together because outside forces had seen their friends’ kids playing the piano and wanted to one-up them. But like some pairs put together kind of randomly, the piano and I were able to eventually develop a slightly-flickering love for each other. Not a burning, passionate, hair-flop-with-every-switch-in-key type of love, but love nevertheless.

There were lots of blips in our relationship, though, even during the early stages. Right after performing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” at a nursing home recital, chubby-cheeked, pigtailed, five-year-old me, in all my excitement, slipped over my too-fancy black shoes. Most of the audience thought it was cute, but my mom’s expression was one of pure embarrassment. Seeing her face, the happiness I felt evaporated, and in its place came an evil spirit named Stage Fright, something which eleven years later, has yet to leave me.

Flash forward to three years after that tripping incident. I loved playing the piece “Minuet in G” - it made eight-year-old me feel so mature. I learned and memorized it just under two months, and I was so proud of myself. Of course, though, it was never 100% good enough, not for my parents at least. “You’re going to have to practice that at least ten more times today”, my mom would say frequently, as if that was just a normal thing to say. If I slipped over even one tiny note, my dad would grind his teeth and shoot daggers from his eyes. Unsurprisingly, “Minuet in G” became my least favorite song by the end of that year.

Piano and I had our great moments as well -- it gave me a sense of discipline, and being able to learn an instrument for as long as I have is definitely a privilege. Some of the accomplishments I’m most proud of have to do with piano. But our somewhat good relationship came screeching to a halt towards the end of fifth grade. The examinations, the sight-reading, the competitions, the passive-aggressive teachers, the constant reprimanding from the parents, the...everything. With every sore phenomenon in my hand, my frustration grew. 

And then came Honors. All year I’ve been preparing for this stupid audition, the audition which will seal my piano destiny forever. Practicing for hours, memorizing an entire Bach “Fugue” in the three days (courtesy of decent muscle memory). If I get in, I won’t have to stress anymore. If I don’t, I’ll have to go through this entire ordeal a second time. 


It’s 8:00 PM now, and I wouldn’t be shocked if my hands fall off my arms at this point. Twenty recordings. Twenty. Recordings. That’s how many it took for my dad to get one recording which satisfied him. I send this recording to my teacher, hoping to just get a “passable” -- not even a “Not bad!” -- from her. My phone rings, and I don’t even need to turn around to know who’s calling.

“That recording was not bad! Not bad at all! But the one from earlier had a better “Fugue”, and this recording has a better “Prelude”. The “Fugue” you just sent me has clipped and accented ends, and I don’t know how that’ll fare with the judges. Your Prelude from earlier was too off-time. Which one will you go with?”

I feel like I’m playing a game of intense Would-You-Rather, except this time, my future depends on it. I feel like I’m going to collapse into a tiny ball, and tears are welling up in my eyes. I can’t do this anymore. I’ll never be good enough for anyone or anything. 

“I-I’ll go with this recording.”

My teacher audibly sighs. “Well, okay honey, it’s a hard decision to make. Let’s just hope that the judges can look past the errors, though I don’t think they will. Have a good night!”

What a classic move on her part. Fingers trembling and heart thumping, I upload the audition video. I watch the blue bar of the uploading site slowly load, knowing that once it reaches 100%, this audition will be out of my control. One part of my mind screams, “Remove the recording while you can! It’s not too late yet!” The other part, the one which might be friends with my hand, screams, “Do you really want your hands to fall off?”. I don’t know which part of my brain to listen to, but it’s too late. The bar is at 100%. 

Somehow, I still believe that getting into the Honors program...the stinking Honors program...will make me happy. Or at least, I want to believe it will. If I get in, maybe, just maybe, my teacher will accept that I’m a decent pianist. Maybe, just maybe, my parents will be proud of me for once. I don’t know if both or even one of these things will happen, but I’m riding on the hope that’s gotten me through twenty recordings, the hope that they just might. If they do happen, that’s when I’ll be allowed to be happy again. All this pain will be worth it.


Two days later, while sitting on the couch in my den, I get the call. The call. The one which will seal my piano destiny forever. 

“You got in,” my teacher states in a matter-of-fact tone. 

My mind is racing. “Wait, I got in? I got IN? I got into the Honors’ Program?” I can’t be hearing right. 

“Yep, you got in. Now we have a lot of work to do, sweetie.” She seems more excited when telling me this as opposed to when she told me that I got in. She then hangs up, no congratulations or anything.

My heart sinks a little bit, but maybe it can be pulled back up based on my parents’ reaction. “MOM, DAD I GOT IN!!!!” I run up the stairs, skipping steps and nearly slipping.

My sister jumps. She seems excited. This gives me hope for my parents’ reaction. After all, they were the ones who were so gung-ho on me auditioning for Honors in the first place.

But my dad? From the inside of his home office he goes, “Great job,” in a monotonous voice, and turns back to his work. Before I can even start to process this reaction, I hear my mom’s voice from the vents. “Your getting in was a result of all the times I made you practice when you were younger. You should thank me.”

My heart has been poked and deflated like a beach ball. What I’d been most scared of all through this miserable journey has been confirmed. I will never be enough. Not for my parents, not for my teachers. Nothing I do will ever make them happy. I will never be enough. I will never be happy. What even was the point of getting into Honors, when nothing will ever change for me?

In just a few months, I know I will be stuck in this people-pleasing Catch-22 all over again, this time for the Honors recital which will determine whether I get to stay in the program or not. My fingers will hurt, but it won’t matter. My wrists will be about to collapse, but I will keep them up with every bit of energy my body can muster. During the few breaks I will take, mostly to eat meals, I will drum the notes out on the kitchen table. All to make sure that those words, those sickening words told in a sickly-sweet voice, don’t come true…

The only way I am going to be able to get through this again mentally is if I find my own love for the piano. If I try to dissociate playing the piano for myself from those words, those scary memories a mile long, those hard times. It’ll be a long and twisty road, but that’s the only way this struggle will ever truly be worth it. That’s the only way I may ever find even a semblance of happiness again.

The author's comments:

My relationship with the piano is complicated, to say the least. However, by writing this piece, I've come to realize that my relationship with the piano has pretty much nothing to do with the instrument itself but rather the emotions and anxiety I've had to process from performances and auditions. While I still don't know if I'll ever be "good enough" at the instrument, I do know that I am making baby steps into loving my abilities for what they are, not what everyone wants them to be.

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