“Here you go! Just move that strip off the door frame when you’re done so the door will lock.”
Dana cheerfully gave the band teacher her thanks then patiently listened for the thud of the heavy door behind her. A rather small, stuffy room laid out before her. The silence seemed to choke living air out of the room. Her skin pricked as the feeling of being swallowed in a sea of cotton balls washed over her. But this was no matter. Like the rising sun purges the sludgy ink night brings in, sound would soon spread across the silent landscape, bringing vivid images of life with it.
She sat down, adjusted her positioning on the bench, and got to work. Warming up was the first task at hand. So she started with a nice, easy C major scale. Right hand first, then left, then both, now two octaves. One, two, three, one, two, three, four, one two, three, four— no, not that fingering. Wrong! A series of ugh’s, argh’s, and no’s spilled into the ordered scales as drops of sour notes tainted the mixture of sound. But such was the purpose of warming up. She had to make mistakes in order to expel the stale blood away from her fingertips. The new, warm blood raced to her fingertips, and with it came cleaner sound, free of of the disjointed, bitter notes. She moved through scales, cadences, and arpeggios in different keys. G major, quaky now good, A major, D major, E major for fun—man, it took more focus than she remembered.
“Okay! I’m ready, I’m ready” she quipped to herself like Spongebob on his first day of work. All warmed up to satisfaction, she reached over to pull out some freshly printed Debussy, Scarlatti, and Edward MacDowell pieces. She had been thirsting for new music for some time, and now, finally she would get to quench that thirst.
But, learning this new music proved more challenging than she thought. She tried to plow through it like she was taught: a section with the right hand only, now the left hand only, ok maybe two more times with each alone… now combine them and… Sour notes plinked out everywhere; this was not what she had imagined. Her chance to get her hands on a keyboard in who knows how long being wasted like this! She felt the weight of her fingers consistently on the wrong keys and the building constriction of frustration in her throat. She couldn’t bear it and the vexation welled up in her eyes, swirling black into white, white into black.
She inhaled deeply. “It’s ok. It’s ok. Take a deep breath,” she soothed to herself. Taking her hands away from the keys, she reached into her music bag. Maybe she jumped the gun on new music. It was time for a break, time to return to the basics—yes, yes, she needed to start with something familiar, something that brought her the memories, the happiness, the emotions she wanted to feel while playing. The new pieces shuffled aside to make way for the veteran. The tattered spine, frayed cover, and folded edges of her old sonatina book complete with a still life of lemons on the cover took center stage on the music stand. The good old lemon book. She opened up to an old Kuhlau sonatina from her seventh grade spring recital and let music spill.
Surprisingly, she remembered more than she anticipated, and the music flowed freely from her hands, from her heart. Images of old piano lessons conjured effortlessly in her mind: laughing with Mrs. Shinn, playing sight reading card games, smelling the icy freshness from her stash of cough drops, feeling the warmth of the floor lamps squeezed into every corner of the room.
She sweetly laid down the finishing chord. Ah, that was renewing. She just needed a little reminder, a little trip down memory lane to feel what she wanted, no, needed to feel. She flipped through the lemon book, and gently closed it up. The lemon book, though ancient, was a staple. How could she forget! It reminded her of what she could do, and the reasons she loved playing. She pulled out the new pieces with a restored sense of self. She encouraged herself that it would not be perfect. But that was ok. She thought, if she could learn that Sonatina, she could learn this too. “It’s not too hard. I can do it. Practice, practice, practice,” she silently egged herself on. The new music did not scare her. That’s right it did not.
She put her hands to the keys and played the puzzle until the bell rang. Sourness mixed with sweet; it definitely was not perfect or pretty. But to play like she did in the lemon book, she had to trudge through the initial confusion and difficulty. With time and care, the fruits (pun intended) of labor would come to her.