Both of my daughters, Christine and Shannon, took up the piano along with all the lessons, the hours of practice, and the nervousness of performing at recitals.
The performance aspect of playing the piano in particular was an act of courage for Christine, who is quiet and reserved, but who still did very well. She’s an enigma in her quiet ways—a girl who will not be held back in spite of discomfort.
My younger daughter, Shannon, performed beautifully. In fact, she won second place in her division, and we were very proud of her! This story, however, is about Christine.
The competition was held in a large auditorium, with a stage at the front. On it were one grand piano and a single seat. The stage looked over a sea of people. It looked to me like a very lonely place to be, and I couldn’t help but feel comforted by the fact that I would remain in the spectators’ seats.
Shannon was to be the one who would perform first in her division. Fortunately, there was no one else playing her piece. Then we looked at Christine’s division. It was a very crowded group. Three other performers besides Christine were playing “Clair De Lune,” and she was to play last.
I sat back and listened as each competitor played “Clair De Lune.” What I heard were very competent and precise performances—these kids were very good!
Each time the piece was played, I looked at the judges. They sat three in a row, and I could only see the face of the judge closest to me. After each performance, her expression was inscrutable, not even showing a hint of emotion.
As I wondered why she seemed so stiff, I realized this was a woman who had, no doubt, heard this piece played hundreds of times before. She was just hearing the same song played three more times.
Hearing these kids play took me back to a moment weeks before, when I listened to Christine practice. She played the piece competently and skillfully, hitting every note with great precision.
As she practiced, I got up, stood behind her, and asked her to show me the music. She pointed at the page, which I saw as a jumbled, complicated sheet, containing indecipherable notes. So I asked her again, “Show me the music.”
Christine didn’t understand, so I explained myself in a different way. “This sheet music is nothing more than the best road map this composer could give you to find his music. This music was born in his heart; he found it there; and the only place you can find it isn’t on this page but in your own heart.”
My flashback was interrupted by Christine’s name over the loudspeaker. She was to be the very last person to perform. Christine made her way up to that single seat in front of hundreds of people. I can’t imagine how nervous she must have felt; even my nerves were hard to control.
Christine bowed, sat, and started to play.
Well, kind of.
Instead of “Clair de Lune,” what came out was gibberish. She played a few random notes, then stopped. A hush came over the crowd, then silence. There wasn’t a single sound, except for a gasp or two. She started and stopped like this three times, each attempt sounding the same—a few strange notes played, nothing more. The music had disappeared from her memory. Every fiber of my being wanted to scoop her up and carry her away off that stage, but I stayed seated and waited—for a miracle.
The courage Christine displayed next was a moment of bravery I couldn’t imagine because I, in no way, possess the same degree of fortitude she was able to call upon in that incredibly intense moment. As she continued to survive through her stumbles, Christine stood up, paused for a few seconds, sat back down again, and…began to play again. But this time, the notes were as soft as a spirit’s whisper. What was to follow was a song the audience had not heard all morning. In that very moment, I began to cry. No, not a single errant tear—but great sobs!
Quickly, I pulled out the mental man-corks and tucked them carefully into my tear ducts, but I couldn’t stop the shaking of my shoulders. The notes were descending on all of us, falling upon our ears, like the tears of Debussy, with great beauty, great longing.
I couldn’t understand what was happening. But I did wonder if it was possible that I was hearing her music with father’s ears. Because I was unsure whether or not I was the only person in the building struck with emotion, I looked over to my left to find that judge with the stoic face. Her shoulders were shaking, and tears were flowing freely down her face—she had no concern for how she may appear to those around her.
My beautiful little girl, my sweet Christine, had moved the emotions of an entire assembly, not with a bold, intense performance, but with a quiet, songful whisper.