Saturday, November 05, 2005

Learning the Piano...

At the prodding of my friends, I am writing this story. My name is Mildred
Hondorf. I am a former elementary school music teacher from Des Moines,
Iowa. I've always supplemented my income by teaching piano
lessons--something I've done for over 30 years. Over the years, I found
that children have many levels of musical ability. I've never had the
pleasure of having a protégé though I have taught some talented students.

However, I've also had my share of what I call "musically challenged"
pupils. One such student was Robby.

Robby was 11 years old when his mother (a single mom) dropped him off for
his first piano lesson. I prefer that students (especially boys!) begin at
an earlier age, which I explained to Robby. But Robby said that it had
always been his mother's dream to hear him play the piano. So I took him as
a student.

Well, Robby began with his piano lessons and from the beginning I thought
it was a hopeless endeavor. As much as Robby tried, he lacked the sense of
tone and basic rhythm needed to excel. But he dutifully reviewed his scales
and some elementary pieces that I require all my students to learn.

Over the months, he tried and tried while I listened and cringed and tried
to encourage him. At the end of each weekly lesson he'd always say, "My
mom's going to hear me play some day."

But it seemed hopeless. He just did not have any inborn ability. I only
knew his mother from a distance as she dropped Robby off or waited in her
aged car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled but never stopped in.

Then one day, Robby stopped coming to our lessons. I thought about calling
him but assumed, because of his lack of ability, that he had decided to
pursue something else. I also was glad that he stopped coming. He was a bad
advertisement for my teaching!

Several weeks later, I mailed to the student's homes a flyer on the
upcoming recital. To my surprise Robby (who received a flyer) asked me if
he could be in the recital. I told him that the recital was for current
pupils and because he had dropped out he really did not qualify. He said
that his mom had been sick and unable to take him to piano lessons but he
was still practicing. "Miss Hondorf...I've just got to play!" he insisted.

I don't know what led me to allow him to play in the recital. Maybe it was
his persistence or maybe it was something inside of me saying that it would
be alright.

The night for the recital came. The high school gymnasium was packed with
parents, friends and relatives. I put Robby up last in the program before I
was to come up and thank all the students and play a finishing piece. I
thought that any damage he would do would come at the end of the program
and I could always salvage his poor performance through my "curtain

Well, the recital went off without a hitch. The students had been
practicing and it showed. Then Robby came up on stage. His clothes were
wrinkled and his hair looked like he'd run an egg-beater through it. "Why
didn't he dress up like the other students?" I thought. "Why didn't his
mother at least make him comb his hair for this special night?"

Robby pulled out the piano bench and began. I was surprised when he
announced that he had chosen Mozart's Concerto #21 in C Major. I was not
prepared for what I heard next.

His fingers were light on the keys, they even danced nimbly on the ivories.
He went from pianissimo to fortissimo ... from allegro to virtuoso. His
suspended chords that Mozart demands were magnificent! Never had I heard
Mozart played so well by someone his age!

After six and a half minutes, he ended in a grand crescendo and everyone
was on their feet in wild applause. Overcome and in tears, I ran up on
stage and put my arms around Robby in joy. "I've never heard you play like
that Robby! How'd you do it?"

Through the microphone Robby explained: "Well, Miss Hondorf ... remember I
told you my mom was sick? Well, actually, she had cancer and passed away
this morning. And well ... she was born deaf so tonight was the first time
she ever heard me play. I wanted to make it special."

There wasn't a dry eye in the house that evening. As the people from Social
Services led Robby from the stage to be placed into foster care, I noticed
that even their eyes were red and puffy and I thought to myself how much
richer my life had been for taking Robby as my pupil.

No, I've never had a protégé, but that night I became a protégé ... of
Robby's. He was the teacher and I was the pupil. For it is he that taught
me the meaning of perseverance and love and believing in yourself and maybe
even taking a chance in someone and you don't know why.

- from a forwaded email

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