Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Musings: The Music of Life

This piano accompanist is breathing a sigh of relief. The middle school music concert is history after last night, and so is my time at school this year.

I love music. That's why I do it. I certainly have no illusions that I am the most competent accompanist around. The paycheck I open each month doesn't come close to covering the gas it takes to drive to town, the interruption to the day or the investment of practice time at home that is never covered by a time sheet.

So I look at my time at school as community service and a way to share my love of music with others.

Accompanists are dinosaurs these days. Most kids - including my own - don't take piano lessons long enough to become adequate pianists, much less accompanists. Piano practice time is squeezed out by club volleyball, little kids' wrestling, MAYB basketball and the myriad of other choices kids (and their parents) opt for these days.

Did I relish my time at the piano bench as a child? No. When the 30-minute timer went off for the day, I usually jumped up so fast it's a wonder the music didn't fly off the piano in the burst of activity-generated breeze.

I have been accompanying at school since Brent was a first grader. I hadn't figured it up until now, but that's 15 years.

If I am honest, there are days I'd prefer to stay home. I have little patience when students are disruptive during class. Why can't they just be quiet and listen to the director?! I know I sound like the old lady I am when I say that school didn't used to be like that.

But then there are the moments that make it all worthwhile. Two of those happened again last night.

Two 8th grade girls didn't just perform the music. They felt the music. And they shared it with every single person in the room.

The vocalist is an absolute joy to work with. She listens carefully to any feedback and works diligently to make the adjustments. Tell her to "lean" into a phrase, and she instinctively crescendos and decrescendos and literally gives me shivers. (That's a good thing, by the way!)

The instrumentalist is a perfectionist. I can definitely relate to that desire to do things well. She is her own worst critic, but she, too, uses crystal-clear tone and dynamics to turn black notes on a white page into true music.

I like to think I'm making a difference - whether I'm sitting at the piano bench or not.

But I don't always have to hear gorgeous music to make me feel like weeping.

I am still thinking about a girl I encountered in the bathroom after rehearsal this week. She was there first. She waited until I came out of the stall and said, "Mrs., I have a question."

"Sure," I told her.

She was standing in front of a full-length mirror, pushing her long hair back and adjusting her clothes.

"What's wrong with me? Is my hair a mess today? Am I wearing the wrong thing? Do I smell?"

"No," I told her. "You look great. I think your hair looks really pretty today. Your outfit is cute."

She stopped me. "No, I really want you to be honest," she said. "Tell me the truth! When I come close to some of the other girls, they look at me and say, 'Oh, __________, get away.' Or they will turn their back, and I can hear them whispering."

I said again, "I am telling the truth. I am being honest. I want you to hear me. Even though it's really hard, you need to realize that sometimes other girls can be mean. I don't know why that is, but it is. So it's not about you. It's about their need to feel better than someone else. If they can put someone down, then maybe, for just a little bit, they can feel better about themselves.

"Try to remember it's not about you, even though it hurts."

I cannot get that girl out of my mind. I know that her home life isn't like life at some of her classmates' houses. So I am worried about her.

Jill's middle school years were the absolute toughest for me as a parent (and no doubt for her as well). I will never forget how mean they were to one another. For several years, I saved a note that I found one day in Jill's pocket. It was from a girl who was supposed to be her friend. It said something about Jill looking like a pig in her cheerleading outfit.

I don't know why I saved the note. Was it to remind me of the power of words? Was it to remind me to really listen to my kids - whether they shared the hurts of the day vocally or exhibited it with a quiet, sullen mood?

Am I naive enough to think Jill was never mean to another girl? Of course not. I'm sure she had her moments even though my constant soundtrack with both my kids was, "Be the bigger and better person."

So I worry about this girl who I don't really know. She was a face in the crowd on the risers before I heard the anguish in her voice this week. Last night, I made it a point to find her and tell her how nice she looked in her dress-up clothes.

I have been that girl. I wasn't the thinnest girl or the prettiest in my class or the girl every guy was clamoring to go out with.

But as I've gotten older, I've realized that most women have felt like that. Even those girls who from the outside looking in have it all - the thin girls with the perfect hair and just the right fashion flair - have that nagging feeling that they just aren't good enough.

It's been kind of a revelation for me as an adult.

But it doesn't change the hurt of a 13-year-old girl peering at herself in the mirror of a bathroom.

So, I hope she heard me - really heard me. If she did, it was worth all the time commuting to town ... practicing at home ... being annoyed at the noise ... the nervous stomach before festivals and concerts.

It was worth every second.

If she heard me. I pray she did.


  1. Playing an instrument and being an instrument are two entirely different things. You did both very well. As a past accompanist myself, I understand the hours! It is not an easy task. I also understand that God puts us in situations and it is up to us to use that for Him. Thank you for being His instrument to that girl. There is no more difficult question to ask than, "What is wrong with me?" To ask it requires bravery and trust in the person you are asking. She respects and admires you. You are having a positive influence even if you never see it.

    Grace and peace - Jen

  2. I pray she heard you, too. I have real concerns about the bullying teen girls--and how they haunt other girls for years. I keep thinking there should be some kind of an intervention-- some kind of an after school program that would teach girls from an early age that they are strong, beautiful, and enough--just as they are. are other girls who don't look, sound, or act like them.

    Bless your heart for being there for that little girl!!

  3. Oh, how I can relate to the days spent sitting on a hard piano bench, frustrated with behaviors of those who don't appreciate the intensity of beautiful music and elated with those who relish the feeling of a job well done. At the same time, I sometimes questioned the reason God had placed me in the position He had. Our placement may not always be for our own benefit, but for those with whom we come in contact with on a minute by minute basis, whether in the bathroom or on the stage.
    There is no greater pain than what a mother feels when the child she is trying to nurture and grow comes into contact with the winds of disrespect. We can only hope that the impact will only make them stronger by deepening the roots of love and compassion from a caring friend, parent, teacher or musician.

  4. Thanks to everyone for their comments and perspectives. I do believe God uses us in ways we may never understand or even recognize at times. Thanks for taking time to interact and comment!