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“I’m not spending money on piano lessons,” said my mother. “It will be a waste of time and money since your hands are too small and stiff.” The condescending smile on her face enraged me.
I felt a sudden impulse to bang at the black and white keys of the piano. “Why are you laughing at me? You don’t think I can do it?” I began to see that even my own mother could not understand my desire to learn how to play the piano. I threw the piano book away. I banged the keys a couple of times; the keys struck the strings, the noise echoed in the empty room. Then I burst into tears. Crying soon turned into irrepressible sobbing. Darkness surrounded me; there was no hope of evading from this agony, nor or was there a soul to save me. Reluctantly, I picked up the piano book my sister used and tried to read the notes again, but the tears distorted my vision. I sobbed all night while playing the same four notes of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by ear. I was ten years old.
A few months before that night, I had been inundated with excitement after seeing Lang Lang perform at Carnegie Hall. Although I knew that my musical abilities were limited, I was not disheartened because I had great aspirations. I saw myself as a concert musician, a Ruth Laredo, performing in the spotlight in front of audience of thousands. I believed that by pleading with my mom to take piano lessons, I would be a step closer to fulfilling my dreams. The reality, however, was crueler than I had ever imagined. At home, my mother was completely oblivious to my zeal for piano. She teased me as I mashed away on the black and white keys of our old Yamaha. She found me amusing. When I begged my sister to teach me some of her songs, she told me to stop trying; when I tried to show her the four notes I had taught myself, she laughed at my small and stiff hands. I found it humiliating.
Acknowledging my struggles with reading notes, I talked to my middle school music teacher. She suggested that I start with the rudiments. Rather than playing from the music books my sister used, she let me borrow some beginner’s books. Reading the instructions of the book after school, I pitied and loathed myself for my lack of musical abilities. I wanted to crawl back into my dreams, where playing the piano was as effortless as breathing. I wanted to play the piano, to express my feelings through the dynamics of the song, to release my frustration through my playing. In reality, my piano playing was strained; my understanding of dynamics was limited. My seven-year-old cousin was playing Bach’s “Minuet in G” while I was playing the child’s version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” My self-esteem plunged.
I did not give up, however. My middle school teacher devoted more time than I could ever ask for. I would rather drop out of school than disappoint her by quitting. My endless hours of practicing and learning began then. After reading and learning the treble clef notes, I moved on to the bass clef. I still felt foolish playing the piano with only one hand, but I was determined. My sight reading gradually improved and by the time I was in seventh grade, I knew all the notes without any indications of struggle. Deeply moved by my passion for music and my two year battle, my mother gave me permission to take lessons.
Seven years have passed since the night I cried in misery. Even after playing most of the fundamental masterpieces, music has never come easily for me. Nevertheless, I have never given up my dreams and my ardor to play. Substituting “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with the “Moonlight Sonata” may not make me the next Mozart, but it is a beginning.
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