Let My Laughter Resound!
“OH, SAY CAN YOU SEE…SEE…SEE…SEE?”
It was an old, black-colored, upright piano. I probably was in my last year of grade school, or in my first year of junior high. Even though my hard-working parents were not ‘plush’ with money, they rounded up enough cash to purchase that monster piano.
For several years, I took lessons, and, even though I did not have a ‘natural musical inclination’, and even though I experienced several distractions during my teen years, l, nevertheless, did give limited concentration to practicing my assigned piano lessons.
Gradually, I became more proficient at making the various scales sound like piano scales should sound. I admitted to myself that I was rather slow in my advancement in learning to play more difficult ‘pieces’. However, by the time I reached the higher grades in high school, I began to ‘tackle’ much more ‘challenging pieces’ on the piano.
I don’t remember the precise date when I became a student under the supervision of my new teacher. My new teacher was named Ann Rogers. She was a fellow student in my high school, probably a few months older than myself. Ann was so beautiful, and she was so intelligent, and she was so talented, and she was so mature, and (beyond all these characteristics) she was a very good pianist. I sometimes felt ‘intimidated’ around her, but, nevertheless, I decided to take piano lessons from her.
Perhaps for 2 or 3 years, I went to her house (weekly) and I tried to learn from her. She was gracious and she was kind to me, but she had ‘high standards’ for musical performance. At times she seemed rather ‘exacting’ to me, and, even though she was my age, she sometimes took the stance of an adult in my presence. I enjoyed her presence, in some ways, but I wondered if I could ‘conquer’ some of the difficult musical movements on the piano that she assigned to me. I was amazed at Ann’s musical skill with her long agile fingers.
Ann was beautiful, in more than one way (physically). She seemed to have all the right ‘movements’ socially and verbally. She did not appear to be a braggart, but, nevertheless, Ann Rogers knew that she was an exceptional person, in several ways. Always so courteous and so polite, she related gracefully to adults around her (including her high school teachers), and she also had several peers who were her friends.
I was not the only piano student that she had, but I definitely was the oldest student that she had. As I recall, at this time, she was giving music lessons to about 7 or 8 other students, beside me, and all of the other students were grade school children.
The above description gives a ‘camera shot’ of my early experience with the piano, and it gives a little insight into the kind of piano teacher that I worked with for a few years before I graduated from high school. Now, the following describes my particular situation – my ‘tight quarters’ – that made me wish I could ‘fly away’ from all people. Ann was ‘proud’ of all her students, with whom she had been diligently working.
As is true of all piano teachers, Ann Rogers scheduled a ‘piano recital’ during which time all of her students (including me) could ‘show off’ their respective musical talents. By this time in my ‘piano career’ (my ‘career’ that had proceeded for several years), I was playing rather difficult music.
My piano teacher gave me the assignment of playing a ‘patriotic medley’ (a combination of several patriotic songs), at the upcoming recital. Admittedly, this medley required a lot of concentration (for me), and it required a difficult movement of one’s fingers (for me). Ann Rogers, my teacher, had long fingers, and she knew her music so well, and she made the playing of the piano appear to be so easy.
I suppose (subconsciously) I felt a certain ‘envy’ when I looked at Ann Rogers. How could one person ‘have it all’ – looks, talents, maturity, personality, social graces, etc.? I felt a little ‘inferior’ when I was around her. Grades did not come easy for me, I certainly did not have great ‘social skills’, I sometimes did not feel ‘mature’, I had lots of skin blotches on my adolescent face, I certainly was not a ‘teacher’s pet’, and I struggled to play pieces on the piano (including the difficult patriotic piece of music that I was supposed to play at the upcoming recital).
I had practiced this ‘challenging piece’ of music for several weeks, and I felt rather confident that I could ‘pull it off’ (i.e., that I could perform this piece well) at the recital, in a couple of weeks. But, I would soon learn the painful lesson that the ‘ground of overconfidence can give way from underneath you’! This recital was scheduled during a summer time month (probably in July). I attended (and enjoyed) the summer family camp (organized by my church).
This annual summer camp, held in Canon City, Colorado, engaged an inspirational speaker, and there were also many youth-oriented activities that I involved myself in. A busy and ‘fun’ time for the entire family, including teens (of which I was, of course, a part). Great was the camp activities, but what wasn’t great was my neglect in practicing for the upcoming piano recital.
My piano teacher, organized as she was in most things, had arranged to host her piano recital, using the facilities of the old Fountain Baptist Church sanctuary. The sanctuary was not a large space, but the pews probably accommodated about 150 persons. When I and my mother entered the church building that evening, to prepare for the anticipated recital, it was obvious, true to her perfectionist ways, that Ann Rogers had invited a considerable number of her friends, and even some of her teachers.
Ann also invited the junior high principal of the school where she had attended a few years previously. This principal (Mr. Burns), in attendance that night, was also previously my principal. This man had been in education for many years. When I attended his school, I am sure that he was a ‘fine man’ and a ‘fine educator’, although, I must confess (for some reason), this principal did not have a particular ‘attraction’ to me when I was in his school. I think, however, the ‘case’ was different, in terms of Ann Rogers.
I think that Ann Rodgers was the ‘pride and joy’ to this particular principal, as well as to several educators (teachers) who were in attendance that night! This place (sanctuary) was packed, as I recall. Of course, all the parents of the younger children were present, to hear their offspring play their well-prepared pieces!
I felt a little ‘strange’ when I considered that I was the only ‘teen performer’. Of course, all the participants (those who were scheduled to play on this particular night) sat together. I was surrounded by young piano students. My teacher was a peer (i.e., Ann and I had been in the same grade and classes for several years), but tonight my peer (Ann) was in the ‘spotlight’.
All persons present, obviously, were so very proud of Ann Rogers – not just because Ann was a great pianist, but because Ann was an exemplary student in her school work, and because Ann was a leader among her peers. These teachers and principal knew Ann to be very mature (responsible) for her young age! It is no wonder that Ann’s public school teachers (and a former principal) showed up for this important evening!
Ann, with her special ‘grace and charm’, welcomed the crowd of folks to the recital. Then, one by one the different students went forward and performed their particular well-practiced piece. Since there were several younger (grade school) children who played – and played well – obviously the pieces of these children were rather ‘simple’ and ‘uncomplicated’ in the level of music.
Then, my name was announced as the next participant. Remember that this piece was not ‘simple’, and remember that I had practiced this ‘patriotic medley’ for several weeks. I had diligently practiced playing the difficult ‘musical movements’. This ‘patriotic medley’ (several combined songs with a patriotic theme) sounded so good to me, when I played it, on my old black upright piano, at my home!
I wanted everyone that night to enjoy the beauty of my well-practiced piece. I wanted the crowd (of teachers and of parents and of my own mother) to hear the medley, and, of course, I wanted my own piano instructor to be proud of my playing!
I started playing my piece, “O say can you see”! Why couldn’t I get past those few words? I started again, and, as if there was a ‘block’ – a ‘wall ‘ – I couldn’t get past those few beginning words! I again tried, but I again hit that ‘wall’ when I got to the word ‘see’! At this point I began to ‘panic’! Not only did I feel oncoming ‘fear’, but I imagined that my teacher was ‘terrified’ with my lack of performance. While I fumbled and fumbled – while I was in the process of experiencing a ‘mental blackout’ – you could ‘hear a pin drop’ in the audience.
A tense and embarrassed quietness descending upon the crowd of concerned onlookers. I am sure that they could hardly believe what was happening! I am sure that they were ‘feeling’ badly for me – and certainly they were embarrassed for the music teacher. They knew that I had the hardest piece to perform, and they probably wondered what happened to me.
Of course, each of the pieces were played without resort to looking at any music. I thought I had this challenging piece well memorized, but, at this crisis point (with all eyes focused on me), I decided that I needed to look at the music. My music (as a backup precaution) was laying on the top of the piano, I reached for the music, and I looked at the music, and I started to play the piece.
Admittedly, I had failed to practice my ‘patriotic medley’ during the 10 days that I was at the family camp at Canon City. I was so involved during those 10 exciting days at summer camp, and, after all, I was confident that I knew the patriotic piece well enough to play it at the recital. What a big mistake! I should have practiced that difficult piece, every day when I was at camp. There was a piano available, so I had no excuse to neglect my practicing.
When I thought I could now play the piece (since I was looking at the music), I again ‘hit the wall’! I again got through a few words – “O say can you see”. Even though I was looking straight at the music (with my open song book), I could not get past the word ‘see’! I was totally befuddled and confused and embarrassed and humiliated! All I could do, at this point of major failure, was to get off the piano bench, and to get off the stage, and to walk down the platform steps to find my place in my assigned seat!
I was embarrassed (beyond words), my teacher was embarrassed, the entire audience was embarrassed! Maybe God Himself was embarrassed for me! I don’t know! Probably not! Ha! When I took my seat, I felt ‘terrible’! I felt like the spotlight of the entire audience was focused on me. My imagination began to ‘run wild with me’! Was I the ‘laughing stock’ of the evening? I could never face any of these persons again!
All of these younger students performed their pieces ‘perfectly’, and I could not even get past the first few words! What good did all my practicing do for me, when, at the most important time, I failed miserably! If I could just have found a ‘hole’ in the floor of that church, before the evening’s program was over, I would have dived into that hole, to hid myself from every face!
At the end of the program, Ann Rogers, true to her graceful and appropriate manner, simply stood up, and she thanked everyone for coming, and then she graciously said: “Some of our students do better during their practice times than they do during a recital!” Obviously, without drawing attention to me, she was referring to me! All of her younger students had done well, so who else could she be referring to, except me?
As soon as the program (recital) was over, I dashed out of the church as quickly as I could. My mother and I were given a ride to the recital, but I could not wait to get to the quietness (shelter) of my home. I walked (probably ran) in the darkness of the night, to my home, about a mile away. I did not want to face the person who drove mother and me to the recital!
True to her godly and loving character, when my mother arrived at our home, she never rebuked or chastened me regarding my ‘grand failure’. She knew that I already was ‘beating myself’ inwardly, and, therefore, as a good mother would do, she tried to ‘play down’ my ‘major goofs’ and my embarrassing failures.
My dear mother could understand why I felt so embarrassed, but she continued to ‘build up’ my confidence. She knew that, although this admittedly was a major ‘flop’ and public embarrassment, every person, at one time or another, has had a time of ‘feeling low’ because of ‘dropping the ball’ in social company.
Mother was a very mature Christian, and, not only at this time regarding the piano recital, but on countless occasions (in the future) she would be a major supporter and encourager in my life! I have said previously, but I say again, that my mother was the kindest person that I ever knew during my lifetime!
“Biblical Foundation For The Sanctity Of Human Life!”