One of the high points of Christmas time is the annual recital for my piano students. Some plan ahead for months. About 20 usually sign up for it. We gather at Bear River, the local Middle School, which has one of the best pianos in town. Each student plays one or two songs. They can be Christmas songs or not; they can be solos or duets. Afterwards we enjoy cream puffs and eggnog while complimenting the performers on their good playing.
This year one student participated for the first time even though she’s a teenager who has been coming for lessons, on and off, for many years. Sweet, charming Lily was born damaged by the drugs in her birth mother’s system. Taken into foster care, she was eventually adopted by a wonderful, caring foster family. For most of her time as a piano student, it was hard for Lily to retain information. I would find myself repeating the same things week after week. She would frequently forget her beginner book. I would find another one for her to take home. She would forget that one as well. Sometimes we would print out Sunday School hymns from the Internet, but only the ones with special notation, where the letter-names are clearly written on the note-heads. Lily, her parents and I did not believe she was capable of reading music. It seemed too complex a task for her to master.
After summer break this year, Lily told me she’d been practicing out of one of her beginner books and was making progress. That day, I discovered she could read Middle C, Bass F and Treble G. She was able to distinguish each one and retain the recognition from one week to the next. Then I introduced her to the D, E and F in between C and G. She got that as well.
I sent an excited message to Lily’s mom. “Lily’s reading music! I think I have underestimated her. She doesn’t need pre-reading notation. She played to the end of Book A without any help from me! I’ll have Book B ready for her for next week.”
At the recital she played Jingle Bells a little nervously but did a good job. Her parents came and watched and were delighted with her performance. Her posture was perfect and her smile radiant.
On a different note (no pun intended), this Christmas is bittersweet as our youngest child turned 20 in September and will soon be leaving home, leaving us with an empty nest for the first time. I reflected on that as I decorated the house for the holidays, contemplating the end of an era. Then I wrote this poem.
Take down the battered boxes from the back-porch shelf,
Take out the old snow-lady, Rosebud sled and elf.
Everything unspoiled by rat or moth,
Poinsettia oven mitts, the festive cloth.
Electric star that sits at awkward angle,
Strings of lights that tediously tangle.
Garlands made of music sheets, paper doves,
Swedish stars from scraps and glitter,
Painted owls from toilet tissue tubes, up-cycled with love.
Take down the popcorn tins from high atop the kitchen cabinets,
Take out all the memories.
All the pretty tiny things,
All the sweet and shiny things
That covered all our Christmas trees since we were young
And held little children on our knees.
_Maree Gauper 12-12-2018