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It was a crisp, clear January day in Park Ridge, New Jersey, a few miles from the middle of nowhere. Before me stood an imposing sight: Schubert’s Impromptu. With a length of fourteen pages and a required foundation of meticulous technical skills, this composition would be a challenge for even the best pianist. And I was no pianist; I was a rhythmically challenged, stubby-fingered sixteen-year old girl. Nonetheless, I began the daunting process of sight-reading.
Black, white, black again. The notes were passing by with unexpected ease – but no! I meant to play A flat, C sharp, B natural, and E sharp; I had underestimated these seamlessly placed notes. My teacher urged me on. I felt utterly incompetent. The melody was exhausting but breathtaking. My fingers began to stiffen; my forearms tingled with pain, and my head was waiting to explode. I soon began to regret that I had chosen Schubert’s Impromptu over Bach’s Prelude. As I pushed forward, measure after measure passed me by. I stopped to inhale deeply, in a hopeful attempt to exhale my frustration and mistakes and inhale even the smallest trace of my teacher’s perfected skills. “Schubert isn’t for everyone,” she consoled. I curtly responded that I would be fine and proceeded onward.
Pain tore through my fingers as they climbed over each key. Black, white, black again. The next note flittered in and out of my view, pushing me forward with only dim hopes of success. Time wore on, and the pain faded into numbness. Each note followed the other in a grim succession. With each passing measure, I became more agile in my ability to sight-read. The end grew near. Suddenly, I heard my teacher, whom I thought had fallen asleep, whisper “You’re almost there.” My vigor restored, I pushed on more quickly than before, until I reached the last note. In one final act of endurance, I closed the score.
However, the journey does not end there; it never does. The end of the first journey was only met with another that would last for three months. Those three months were filled with endless hours of a ticking “Energizer Bunny” otherwise known as a metronome, a book defaced by every color in the Crayola box for the sake of musical perfection, and the loss of countless hours of sleep to my beloved Schubert.
Although I may verbally complain about how much I despise playing the piano, in the dark depths of my soul it is impossible to admit such an atrocity. There is nothing else that brings the rare satisfaction that perfecting a piece brings. During the process, disappointing not only my teacher but also myself, I continued to learn and to improve. There is nothing as marvelous as hearing myself play an impeccably constructed impromptu. And every time a piece is played the way it was meant to be played, not only does the music come alive, but also the pianist and the composer are able to, if only for a bit, live vicariously through the melody. There is something about bringing another’s passion to fruition. The grueling process of the initial sight-reading and countless repetitive mistakes drive me to the brink of insanity, but the very thing that drives me crazy also fuels me.
I am a pianist. I may not be the greatest of musicians, and hearing my friends and teacher play is often a humbling experience, but it is the disappointment and frustration that keep me going. I cannot stop until I have reached perfection.
Crescendo, diminuendo, crescendo again. Disappointment, humiliation, disappointment again. Black, white, black again. Perfection, failure, perfection again.
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