It was April of 2001, just four short weeks before my high school graduation. I had rehearsed my piano piece for months in order to participate in an area-wide school competition, and I had been dreaming about the moment I would stand before my peers and claim my first place prize for Best Piano Solo. All eyes were on me as I sat down before the impeccably polished baby grand. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a brief moment, just like my piano teacher had instructed. Just pretend you’re at home practicing, I thought to myself.
I began caressing the keys ever so delicately, and I filled the room with sweet, unrushed strains. I knew my piece like I knew the back of my hands, but as I looked down at my fingers, something awful happened. I wasn’t even through the first page of my song when all of the sudden, I started playing the end of the song! What do I do? I haven’t even been playing for a full minute, and my piece is supposed to be seven and a half minutes long, I thought as I teetered on the brink of panic. I noticed in my peripheral vision that the three stern judges were leafing through the music, brows furrowed, trying to find where I had wandered off to in the song. Before I could decide what to do, my nervous fingers were pecking out the final notes of the song. I had just flushed hours of intense practice down the tubes with my abrupt, unexpected ending. I found myself praying for a trap door to magically open and whisk me away from my embarrassment.
You could have heard a pin drop as the last chord of my song faded into silence. After what seemed like an eternity, I stood up and took a bow, just as I had practiced. My ears were deafened by a series of awkward, courtesy claps- not exactly the thundering applause I had been imagining for so long. As I made my way out of the auditorium, I began to mentally berate myself for my colossal failure. I wondered how I could have let such a pivotal life experience turn into my most embarrassing moment. Why was I even sacrificing hours of my time to learn how to play the piano?
Looking back on that humiliating event, I now realize that my reasons for playing the piano were out of whack. I had allowed the superficial rewards of playing the piano to become more important than letting the music soothe and speak to my heart. Instead of using my music to uplift and inspire the audience, I had focused on letting myself shine.
My advice for anyone who desires to play the piano is to let the music speak. Let your song be your message. Instead of focusing on the praise and acclaim you might receive, pour your heart and soul into the keys, and allow your notes to outshine you. Take if from someone who has learned from experience: a thunderous applause is far more fulfilling than a round of courtesy claps.