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Alan's Lesson

Belfry Bistro, Sandwich MA

Alan wasted no time in declining my invitation to join our piano evening at the Belfry. I chalked this up to his being a newbie and let it lie. One good thing about being all grown up is no parent makes us attend piano recitals. Another good thing about being an adult is piano recitals move from palatial, often intimidating, church venues, to -- well, let’s be honest, a different kind of church venue: one with an excellent wine selection and award winning menu. The Belfry is an elegantly renovated former church that offers what we pianists love even more -- a fine grand piano perfectly situated at the center of a warm and inviting atmosphere.

A week later, I heard back from Alan. He decided he’d like to come. He didn’t want to play. Of course he didn’t want to play.

Alan had completed a grand sum of three lessons with me at that point. He had recently met a few of the other students when he came to our studio social, but he was definitely a beginner. And so, it was predictable that he would say what all the others have said before him: I don’t want to play in public.

They all say that. And they all mean it. Honestly, that’s just fine with me.

But, almost always, they change their minds, as if by magic. I’m convinced it’s because -- as adults-- they have a choice. They understand things might not go well, but they take a chance. It makes my heart warm to think on it.

So Alan changed his mind the next week.

He told me in Week 4 that he might want to play -- but made it clear he wasn’t sure. No worries. We are free to change our minds however many times we wish. That’s also granted with adulthood. Isn’t this such a supremely splendid thing about being an adult? No one can make us do anything. No one makes us not change our minds. (As a matter of fact, I’ve come to really appreciate people who possess the ability to change their minds, but that’s another blog for another day.)

Alan was concerned, understandably, that things might not go well for him. Five weeks isn’t much time for preparation, especially if you only just started lessons five weeks ago. I agreed with him. Things might not go well. This was definitely within the realm of possibilities.

However, I reminded him, things might go perfectly. Forget probabilities. Think possibilities.

There is a possibility that things will go better than you can even imagine.

I forgot I told him that. I don’t know if I had ever said that to a student before. I’m pretty sure I had never said that to a month-long student.

I’ll need to remember those words, however, because Alan made them work.

We had a full house, almost 50 people on the reservation list, several other friends and colleagues joining us last minute. This was a new venue for us. Last few years we had attended a more casual venue so I was a little concerned at the formality of the new location, fearing what I call stuffiness. I didn’t want everyone sitting quietly as if at that childhood church recital venue. I'm happy to report the night was a resounding (pardon the pun) success. No stuffiness, plenty of chatter all around, with music at the heart of it. Even the other restaurant patrons were enjoying our presence. My heart was full.

Alan, May 2019

I often say my photos all look the same. Same photo, different setting. I’m still learning to “frame” things. However, Alan’s photo really stood out. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my photography skills. It was his Radiant Look. He played well, and he was aware of this, content with his performance. He played Dvorak’s Largo Theme from his 9th Symphony, often known as the song, “Goin’ Home.” And he played it well.

That was a Thursday night. The following week, at the lesson, I shared with him a clip of his photo from the community newspaper. I asked him what his secret was, how he managed to play so exquisitely at his debut performance. He reminded me of what we had discussed about the possibility of things going well. He said he woke up the morning of the event with the intention of making the whole day wonderful. He headed to the ocean, with his music, and he sat and imagined how it was going to feel for things to go beautifully. He carried that peaceful feeling with him through the entire day and into the evening, right up to the piano bench and through the performance.

Alan’s ability to create his own experience is truly captured in the photo. I wish this ability-- to create the best of experiences-- for all of us, both at the piano and in life. It’s a truly great lesson from Alan.

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