The Piano Recital
The Piano Recital
My family couldn't make it. I was all alone. Then God sent me an earth angel…
Three hours to go before my first piano recital, but I was already dressed in my Sunday-best blue dress.
My teacher, Mrs. Davidson, was married to a professor at the local university, so she held the recital in the big auditorium there. I’d never played in front of so many people. But at least I wouldn’t be on my own. Mother and Daddy would be there, and my little sisters, all cheering me on.
I came downstairs, my new Mary Janes squeaking on every step. Mother and Daddy were at the table. “Must be that flu going around,” Mother was saying as I came in.
“Who’s got the flu?” I asked.
“Rachael and Rebekkah.”
Oh, no, I thought. Now my little sisters wouldn’t be there to watch!
“We’re all so disappointed to have to miss the recital,” said Mother.
“Wait. You’re not coming either?”
“I can’t leave the little ones,” she said. “You understand.”
“I’ll be there,” Daddy said. That was a relief. Daddy was the reason I started taking lessons. One day I dreamed of doing a duet with Daddy. Me on the piano, him on the violin, playing “The Londonderry Air” together.
Whenever Daddy played it on his violin mother got a dreamy look in her eye, like she was a million miles away, even when she was doing the dishes. That’s why I chose that song to play in the recital today.
With Daddy there I’ll be okay, I thought. I took my seat at the piano for one last run-through. Back straight, fingers curved, I played. I hoped Mother, Rachael and Rebekkah could hear it upstairs. This is what you’ll be missing today! I thought.
The key to “Londonderry Air,” Mrs. Davidson said, was cross-hand playing. I played most of the song in the bass clef with the left hand gliding over the right for the accent notes. “It should sound almost like a cello,” she had said as she demonstrated.
At our own upright mahogany I imitated the way her hands had looked, gliding in and out over the keys like a pair of ice skaters. I concentrated so hard I barely heard the phone ring in the kitchen, or my father talking. So I was shocked when I saw him going out.
“Emergency at work,” he said. “I have to go. Mrs. Davidson will drive you. You’ll do wonderfully.”
He wished me luck. But how could I play without anyone there for me? When the time came to leave, I walked by myself to Mrs. Davidson’s house, my Mary Janes echoing on the sidewalk.
I passed a driveway where a mother and father were piling their kids into a station wagon with their sheet music. Everybody will have someone in the audience for them but me, I thought.
When I got to Mrs. Davidson’s house I helped her carry some squeaky metal folding chairs to her van. One of them left a smudge on my dress. That wouldn’t have happened if Daddy had come, I thought. Nothing will go right with me all on my own.
The recital hall was already filled with kids and their families. A man Daddy worked with herded a whole brood of kids into a row of seats. At the piano a grandfather snapped a picture of a boy dressed in baggy trousers that dragged on the floor. The boy’s grandmother straightened his bow tie.
“This here’s the next Liberace,” she announced to the people in the front row. The boy went red. At least you’ve got somebody to cheer you on, I thought. I turned away from him, only to see a mother promise a girl with blonde curls ice cream after the recital.
I took my seat, feeling like an orphan. One by one students got up to play. Families cheered and took pictures. I wished I was anywhere but here.
A girl in white and yellow took her place at the piano like a giant daffodil. My own Peter Pan collar choked me. My Mary Janes pinched my feet. Everything seemed to itch at once. I wish someone was here for me! I thought desperately.
The daffodil girl curtsied and ran into the arms of her proud parents. Now it was my turn. I walked across to the ebony grand piano and wiped my sweaty hands on my skirt. My eye fell on the man who worked with Daddy. If only they’d called him instead…
I began to play “The Londonderry Air” like Mrs. Davidson taught me, and my hands drifted over the keys, left, right, under, over—no! Over, under. Oh, no! My hands got tangled like beagles in a briar patch. My "Londonderry Air" came to a halt.
I pushed my glasses up on my face. I felt every eye on me—and not a single friendly eye among them. There was nothing to do but start over. But four measures in I seemed to run out of fingers.
This is the worst day of my life! I didn’t dare to peek at the audience. The sight of all those strangers was more than I could bear just then. “Start over,” Mrs. Davidson mouthed from the corner of the stage, but I couldn’t even remember the melody.
The recital hall was deadly quiet. I heard the rustle of a program. The squeak of a chair. And then finally, a lone angelic voice. “Play something you remember.”
It was a man with a grey beard in the fourth row. His friendly face was just what I needed. Even though I didn’t know him, I felt like he was there just for me.
A song from my beginner’s book, “Ocean Waves,” came to my mind. I scooted the bench closer to the piano and played it with every ounce of feeling I’d saved for “The Londonderry Air.” Mrs. Davidson didn’t strictly approve of improvisation, but I stretched the piece from 30 seconds to two minutes, keeping my mind on the friendly man with the grey beard.
The hall erupted with applause when I finished. I curtsied and ran back to my seat. When the recital was over the bearded man praised my performance as “extraordinary” and full of something called “pathos.”
That night at home, I accompanied Daddy on “The Londonderry Air” for Mommy, Rachael and Rebekkah. This time my hands went just where they were supposed to go. And not because I had Daddy there playing with me. But because there would always be someone to accompany me.
Hidden even in a crowd full of strangers is at least one angel.
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