“Reaching” 6×6, oil on gessoboard, $75 Buy Now SOLD
I used to babysit her, which I lovingly described at her rehearsal dinner. It’s not every day a girl you played hide-and-seek with and gave frequent lectures to about the importance of baths asks you to be her maid of honor. But that’s what happened. I’ve loved getting to know Robin as the adult she is now. I also love that I have first-hand embarrassing childhood stories in my back pocket at all times. I can’t say that for any of my other friends.
Robin’s one of those people with whom you pick up right back where you left off. She’s confident, warm, open-minded. To know her is to love her. The story she wrote in surprised me because I’ve never thought of her as anything less than a piano expert– the kind that can do absolutely anything music-related and has never once questioned her calling.
I don’t know how old she was, but I remember her playing while I was still officially “babysitter” and not yet graduated to plain ‘ole friend. One day she was playing “twinkle twinkle” with one finger and the next day both hands were gliding across the keys making music far more complicated than I was used to. In other words, she picked it up fast. Very fast.
She tells me all the time that she’s really not that good and that I just think she is because, well, I don’t know anything about music. When people lie and tell me I sing well, she assures me that I am, in fact, tone deaf.
She’s been teaching piano lessons for years and has built quite the reputation around Baton Rouge. Here’s her story:
“It was maybe the third or fourth year I had been teaching piano. I was in the church where our end-of-the-year recital was going to be held, and I was listening to one of my students practice her recital piece.
I always did this with my students before a recital. I would make them practice bowing, then make them sit down on the bench and play their piece all the way through while I stood in the way back and listened. Then, we would talk about how to make it better for the recital. I had done this routine so many times with so many students. And I had been teaching this particular student since my first year, so I had done this with her six or seven times already. Very routine.
She started to play; I walked to the middle of the church to listen to her. And all of sudden I was just overwhelmed by how beautifully she was playing. It caught me off guard and brought tears to my eyes. All of a sudden I wasn’t listening critically to my student with a list of things to fix before the recital. I was listening to a beautiful little girl play beautiful music. And the thought came to me, “I helped make this music possible.”
Since I started piano so late, I’ve always felt behind. I’ve never felt like I was good enough, even through my undergrad and my master’s degrees. I really only majored in music by default because I didn’t know what else to do and my favorite class was music appreciation. Through the hard work and dedication and faith from my incredible teachers, I was able to complete my degrees. But I always felt insecure about my playing and always felt like I would never be able to catch up to my peers, no matter how hard I worked.
I started teaching my first year of college to make some extra money. Again, I knew that there were so many better teachers than I was. I felt insecure about teaching kids how to play piano when just four or five years ago, I had been playing out of the same books they were playing from now.
But I loved my students. I loved teaching. And I loved piano. I tried to ignore my feelings of not being good enough and do my best with what I had. I guess all art forms are kind of like that– you do your best, put yourself out there, get critiqued and criticized over and over, then you suck it up and make it better and try again.
I had started teaching this particular little girl when she was in kindergarten. And here she was, three years later, playing a piece and playing it so beautifully that it made me cry. And I almost never cry. It was kind of a moment of affirmation to me. Something told me, ‘You did a great job with this little girl. You are a good teacher. You chose the right path. This music was only possible because of your work with her. And listen to how beautiful it is.’
It didn’t really change anything in my life, but it changed the way I thought about myself. It made me think that what I had was really of some value, that something beautiful in the world existed because of me. And that made me more excited to share music with even more students.”
After reading Robin’s story, I thought about how often we think people who are “good at fill-in-the-blank” are immune to insecurity. We think they just know their path and follow it confidently. Hmmm.
I asked Robin to send me some pictures of her students playing. She wrote back saying she had mostly posed pictures– happy students smiling for the camera after a job well done. She sent in a few, but the angles weren’t quite right for what I wanted to paint.
This morning, my mom, Ezra and I went to St. Timothy, a church where my mom used to work. They kindly let me sit Ezra at their piano. He giggled, hesitantly struck one key, then another as I snapped a hundred pictures.
I chose this image for two reasons– one, the potential of a child, the way we teach from absolute scratch how to make beautiful things, and, two, I hope it’s prophetic. I hope Robin teaches my son how to play the piano someday.