Once upon a time, I dreamed of being a concert pianist.
Only problem is I am quite horrible at piano.
But I had decided when I was a little girl, I wanted to play.
Mama wasn’t so sure about this.
“Is this going to be like your dream of being a ballerina?” she asked.
She may have forgotten but she was the one who nixed that dream in the
She told her chubby child – me – to walk across the floor on tiptoes
Given the impossible task, I grabbed a Twinkie and turned on Scooby
Piano, I promised, would be different.
Granny called Miss Suzanne, not just any piano teacher but the best
piano teacher in our town.
Miss Suzanne had seen me around school and probably wasn’t so sure;
Granny had to do some high-pressure selling.
“She is very musically inclined,” she said into the phone. “She has
always loved music. Although we don’t know what is wrong with her, she don’t
like country music. But everything else she does. She’s been humming since she
was in Pampers and I think she has got a natural talent for it.”
Somehow, she convinced Miss Suzanne to give me lessons.
I was excited – not only was I on my way to being a concert pianist, but, Miss Suzanne would get me out of class twice a week for my lessons!
I remember walking down that long hallway with the piano room.
Now that I think about it, they probably hid the piano room in the
bowels of the school, so no one could hear some of the blood curdling sounds
that came out of that room.
My first few weeks, I was actually fairly decent.
I caught on quickly and I loved the idea of learning music, begging for
a piano so I could play all day and all night.
One afternoon, I came home to find an upright piano delivered.
“I wanted a baby grand piano,” I said.
“Where are we going to put a baby grand piano?” Mama asked. “This is fine.”
I was so excited. At least until I found out that meant I could now do theory.
Theory, I soon learned, was just a fancy word for music homework.
“I can’t do this!” I wailed. “It’s too much work! I am just a child!”
Mama had no sympathy.
“You are not quitting, so you just need to learn to get beyond that
“I am giving up my childhood for this!”
In reality, it had been like three weeks. But in child years, that was
Mama didn’t let me quit.
No matter how much I whined or carried on, Mama made me stick with it.
“It’s building character,” she would tell me when I protested.
“You could save this money you are spending on piano lessons for
something else,” I said.
“It’s okay,” Mama assured me. “I don’t mind spending money on something that is enriching your life.”
Mama insisted I was going to do what I needed to; if I was supposed to
do theory, then I was going to do it. Even if it meant doing it before school.
In fact, Mama was very pro-piano until she went to my first recital.
I remember thinking this was a big deal.
Sure, I had sang in group performances for school and church, but this,
this was different.
I was going to have my own little solo piece.
Miss Suzanne took us all to the Methodist church downtown to practice
and for a trial run.
I can still remember the way the church smelled and the way the wooden
pews creaked with all of us sitting on them. Even the way the light through the
stained-glass windows and danced on the floor.
This felt like it may be my big opportunity to be a concert pianist!
Until a friend I had grown up with arrived.
He had left our school a few years before but was still taking piano
with Miss Suzanne.
Miss Suzanne had him practice first.
It was like watching a young Mozart or Beethoven play.
He made it look so effortless, so easy.
I guess she wanted to showcase her best student first – hoping the rest
of us would be as good as he was.
I was a couple of kids after, and I was triumphant mess.
I had asked Miss Suzanne if I could leave after my song and she told me
no; we had to be there to support our fellow pianists.
I wanted to run and hide. I considered crawling under the pews to
When it was over, and I was the biggest failure of the recital, I ran
to Mama and Granny.
Granny told Miss Suzanne maybe she should have saved the boy for last.
“Putting him first is setting the bar awfully high,” she said. “Are we entirely
sure all of these children needed to be in the recital…like Sudie?”
Miss Suzanne had hoped it gave us something to work towards, to have a
goal to practice for and to have the glory of a performance.
“How much did you practice?” Mama asked me when I told her how
embarrassed I was.
“I didn’t,” I said. I have never been able to tell a lie, and I wasn’t
about to start then.
“I see,” she said. “Perhaps if you had practiced, you would have done
“I doubt it,” I began. “I think I need to just quit.”
Mama looked at me and patted my head gently. “No.”
“What?” I was horrible, I had embarrassed myself in front of a church full of people. And she was going to let me keep playing?
“You are not giving up just because you didn’t do well in your first recital,” she said. “You’re sticking with it, Kitten.”
And I did.
For eight years.
“Did you ever learn how to play piano well?” my own child asked.
Nope, I sure didn’t. But I did learn how to never give up.