For the past few months, Grace has been preparing to participate in a local Young Musicians Festival that was held at Fairfield University. It is a non-competitive experience where young musicians play two pieces from memory in front of a panel of experts who do not “judge”, but rather offer a critique on the playing and rate the musician.
Grace entered as an intermediate player. I have listened to Grace play every day for years. The songs she works on become part of our family’s day to day life because we hear them over and over again. In a way, her playing is how we do composer studies, since she prefers classical pieces over popular ones. We have heard Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky to name a few of the great composers.
Having never participated in something like this, we had no expectations. Taking vacation the week before was not ideal because it limited her ability to practice. My mother in law contacted her friend and neighbor who is a pianist and owns a lovely Yamaha baby grand piano. Since she was in rehab recuperating from knee replacement surgery, she graciously gave my mother in law the key to her house. Another example of southern hospitality. Who lets strangers into their house? Even if they are family of friends...... I am very grateful to both these ladies who helped Grace accomplish her goal of playing to the best of her ability.
Not having immediate access to a piano may have been a blessing in disguise. It kept the focus off the performance and on her joy of playing. I told her she was doing this because she wanted to, not because her teacher or I was forcing her to. If she played well, I would be proud of her and if she did not play well, I would still be proud of her.
Sunday came and we arrived to campus 30 min early to find our assigned room. It is was a full concert size Steinway grand piano....Grace’s dream instrument. She played and played and played. She had a good 20 minutes of private practice time before the other musicians began to arrive and being their warm ups.
There was another boy in her group who was also talented. We listened to him warm up. On his second piece, he made a mistake and froze. He never regained his composure and struggled through the rest of the song. But he finished. He did not stop. He did not quit. I clapped just as loudly for him, as I did for Grace and for the 11 year old boy who played so well. But his mother did not. She buried her head in her hands, shaking from side to side, clearly embarrassed by his performance. She would not look at her own son. I channelled every bit of energy I had to that boy. Be proud. Be strong. Have courage. My heart broke for him as I wondered what unkind words she would say in private if that was how she behaved in public.
In the car on the way home, I told her that part of growing up is learning to keep going. Not everything is perfect. We cannot achieve perfection. We can only play the best we can on that day. The honor comes from how to keep our composure in adversity and how we persevere.