(written originally in 2003, and posted unmodified despite my impulse to do otherwise)
The day of my performance had finally arrived. My Mom picked up my three younger siblings and me from school in our new white minivan. As we drove to the community college I tried to avoid thinking about the upcoming performance and instead went over the past week in my mind.
As I had walked into the piano store Dr. Dean had greeted me with his usual, “Hello, Kimosabe Breath.” I scrunched up my shoulders to avoid the inevitable “wishbone treatment,” but to no avail. Dr. Dean jokingly gave me a Vulcan neck pinch without the release. As always he asked me if I knew why he referred to it as the wishbone. I responded that it was because I wished it would stop.
Finally he released my shoulder. Dr. Dean was tall and thin while I was short and thin. Dr. Dean gave me piano lessons at his work, a fair-sized and not too busy piano store. “How’s your piece going?” he asked. I had it all but memorized, which was good considering it had to be memorized for the music festival next week. I sat down and played my piece, a fairly simple number titled “The Great Smoky Mountains.” I didn’t play it too quietly or too fast—as a matter of fact I may have done just the opposite. I also didn’t play too energetically, which was probably caused by my reluctance to play the piano at all.
The last week I had faithfully practiced my piece five times a day, at least three of which were from memory. I was finally gaining some greater proficiency with the sustaining pedal, a new technique I was just learning for this piece. It was the day before the performance and I had just come to a great discovery: if I simply thought of the sustaining pedal as an on/off switch, it seemed to work perfectly. As I played my piece, I now simply pressed as firmly as I could on the pedal when called for and released just as suddenly. This created a wonderful addition to my already fortissimo dynamics.
We entered the half full festival performance room and joined fifteen people to await my turn to play. There was an upright piano in the room for the performers. Near the center of the room there was a man brought in from Northern Utah to give suggestions about the performances. As I fidgeted and tried to keep my mind calm, I heard others come and go as they performed pieces that were far beyond my capability. Finally it was my turn. I walked to the front of the room, handed my piece to the adjudicator, and rapidly announced what I would be playing. I played the first chord accompanied by a loud “whump” caused by my stomping on the sustain pedal. As I ended the measure, I released the pedal just as suddenly creating a loud “thunk.” As I played, I began to suspect that I was not playing quite as I should, but I felt that I couldn’t change my style in the middle of the piece. With no other alternative, I continued the piece only becoming more energetic with my abuse of the piano. When I finished, I stood with a red face and gave a hurried bow before leaving as soon as possible. While relieved to be free of the performance, I was now embarrassed with how I had played. I ignored my mother’s encouraging remarks about how I had played, because I knew I had messed up.
After my performance I avoided my piece like the plague. I even avoided the piano like the plague. When I received the review of my performance in one of my final lessons, there were several comments, but the only one I saw was, “Be more gentle with the pedal.” While that performance was the death knell of my piano lessons, I have noted that often the best way for me to learn, despite how much I dislike it and how difficult it can be, is to receive public criticism.