I began playing the piano regularly, around 62 years ago this year. Not only is that number astounding to me, as is looking in the mirror these days, but I’m thinking about how the piano (and music in general) have become such a natural part of my personality – and how that all began. I’m starting to take some memories from the back of the “filing cabinet” of my mind…and I thought today about my first “RECITAL”.
Probably one of the most colorful figures to enter my world (and this is saying a lot) was my first piano teacher. She was larger than life, a chronic smoker with the voice and cough to prove it, fingers crippled with arthritis (though she could still play amazingly well) and everything in her house was pink. At Christmas she had an aluminum tree with pink ornaments, and a rotating color wheel on the floor…going to my piano lessons during Christmas was like a trip to Vegas.
After about a year of lessons, or a little less, she introduced me to a new word, “recital”. She explained what it was and chose a piece for me to play. I still have the sheet music. It is framed and sitting in beside my piano, to this day. The piece was prophetically titled, “IN CHURCH” (by June Weybright), and it was published the year I was born.
We worked hard on it, she coached me on every “nuance” and reminded me that simply playing every note correctly was not enough – I needed to convey feeling and emotion that my little brain had yet to experience.
Then one day, knowing this was my first recital (and I was undoubtedly her favorite student), she packed me in her Eisenhower-era car and took me to the venue where the recital would take place; appropriately, a church.
It didn’t look like the church I went to, it was a bit fancier, as I remember, and larger. Maybe a little intimidating. There were dark open beams in the ceiling, there where stained-glass windows with pictures of Bible stories. There was brass and there were candles everywhere…I had never actually been in a place like it before. She showed me where I would sit, prior to playing. She led me along the path to the piano and told me to take my time getting comfortable on the bench, then take a deep, slow, breath, and place my fingers to begin. She taught me how to bow, one hand on the piano, facing the audience. Then she stood there and asked me to play the piece. I did.
Then she said, “I’m going to ask you to play it again. But this time I’m going to the back of the room to make sure I can hear you.”
She moved to the back of the sanctuary and asked me to play it again. She clapped when I was finished and reminded me to stand and bow.
Then she asked me to play it again. This time, she warned, she was going to try to distract me, but no matter what she did, or what sounds I heard, I was to continue to play – “Imagine it’s just you and the piano alone in the church.” She said. I sat down, took my deep breath, placed my fingers on the keys, and started playing.
Suddenly, a cacophony of hideous sounds came out of her mouth. Having a smoker’s voice, and a loud one, the sounds were almost inhuman. Had the movie been made at that point (and had I been allowed to see it) I would’ve compared the sounds to the voice of the demon in little Regan’s body – in the film “THE EXORIST”. I concentrated as she screamed, I closed my eyes and played as she pounded on the back of the pews in back and stomped her feet. I endured, shutting it all out. And in the end, she applauded (and whistled) and I bowed…and then we both burst out laughing.
I had never seen an adult of her variety behave like that, in all my short years of life to that point. It was incredible. But she reiterated, “There will be many people here. Some will be here to hear you specifically; some won’t want to be here. Some people may be here for THEIR first recital. You will hear all sorts of sounds: people coughing, shuffling, children, babies crying, people whispering…you just listen for the music and play like you’re the only one in the room.”
It’s a lesson I’ve held on to through a lifetime of recitals, concerts, performances, and public speaking events. And it is a lesson I’ve applied to life.
Some people will always be present to cheer you on.
Some will be there to hope you fail.
Some don’t want to be there.
Some have no idea where they are.
But you: set your course. Look to the goal. Take it all in, but don’t let it distract you from your purpose.
The Bible says it this way: “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. HEBREWS 12:1-2
What is “your recital” piece? What is your purpose and goal? This is the perfect time of year to figure out who you are and why. Once you do, once you know who you are and what your purpose is in this time and place. And once God puts His hand on your shoulder, smiles, and “leads you to the piano”, get comfortable, take a deep breath, put your fingers on the keys…
…and play your song.