Updated: Feb 12
"Hi, this is [name deleted]. I am a friend of [name deleted]. I was interest in having my daughter start prison lessons."
It's difficult to know how to answer this. Luckily I was drinking a Manhattan at the time and recognized the paramount importance of saying nothing.
But the spellchecking mishap aside, it's amazing how this studio thing has taken off. I now have 60 (sixty!) students. The piano teachers' guild in the neighboring suburb has put out a hit on me. The key to success, it turns out, was to find a person with seven cousins all living in the same 10-mile radius. And to have a neighbor with a small child who also did the landscape gardening for several stately homes, all of which had aunts in them.
Students come from all over. There's the father of my son's best friend in high school, who is the only person in the entire city of Columbus who supports Stoke (a football team in England's second tier - look it up). There is the child of the person who painted the studio, who asked if his son and his co-worker's son could take lessons.
Not since I was a rec league soccer coach when Sophie and Teddy were small have I had such a rewarding sense of an America that loves its children and cares about joy. Soccer, for four-year-olds, is a matter of sitting in the center circle and picking daisies. Music, for four-year-olds, is a matter of roaring like a tiger, banging a drum, and then saying "quarter quarter half" in an English accent. The common denominator is play.
At 9:30 on Saturday the student with the Persian grandmother comes in. At 10:00 on Saturday the two children with the Uighur father comes in. I would use their names but I think it's best to keep everything confidential, including (and especially) faces. So there are stickers instead throughout this blog post, in keeping with internet protocols. The point is that in my studio on Saturday morning the two ends of the Silk Road meet. And the children sit and arrange knights on the carpet to attack a pirate ship, while the granny and the dad talk about how difficult it is to keep the little ones speaking their first language.
There are moments that have the parents in fits of laughter. One six-year-old girl was invited to consider the drawing for "At the Zoo," in which a lion with a balloon shares an ice cream with a tiger with a balloon. "What kind of ice cream do you think that is?" I ask innocently. "I don't know," says the child flatly. "But I think the lion wants to get married."
One boy is asked to play "The Pecking Hen," in which the 3rd finger is used to play all the notes from middle C to the top of the keyboard. "I'm not allowed to use my middle finger," he says sheepishly. In "The Lonely Pine," the student is asked to draw a bird in the tree to make it less lonely. The girl at the piano bench draws a beautiful bird, and then another one beside it "so that it doesn't get lonely either." Later she has a dance party at the farm with a Minotaur as the bouncer, who decides not to let the lion in.
Another student sits up straight for 10 seconds with a stuffed animal on her head, but then decides that a rhino beetle should go on top of that, creating an imitation of the Town Musicians of Bremen.
One student plays the opening of "Fur Elise" so often that I wrote "This Is Not Fur Elise" on top of her sheet music. She then composed a song to the tune of "Jingle Bells":
This is not Fur Elise
Let me tell you why
It is in the key of C
And that's the reason why
This is not Fur Elise
Allow me to explain
Mr. Sebastian has told me countless times
That they are not the same!
In Eudora Welty's magnificent short story, "June Recital," Miss Eckhart gathers all the children of the fictional town of Morgana, Mississippi for a ceremony that Cassie's father describes as "a military operation." Cassie is Miss Eckhart's first student. Every student is assigned a color to wear, programs are printed, and a hush falls as Miss Eckhart enters the room. "There was the mixture together of agitation and decoration which could make every little forthcoming child turn pale with a kind of ultimate dizziness." Virgie Rainey, the best student in the class, will play "Fur Elise," after which Miss Eckhart will say "Virgie Rainey, danke schoen."
"So they played, and except Virgie, all played their worst. They shocked themselves. Parnell Moody burst into tears on schedule. [...] Cassie played and her mother--not betraying her, after all--was seated among the rest. At the end, she had creased her program into a little hat, for which Cassie could have fallen at her feet."
I first read The Golden Apples, where this story appears, as a freshman in Expository Writing class back in 1979. I knew what it was like to notice something that a parent had done to show that they were paying attention. If at the end of the story Miss Eckhart sets herself on fire, that didn't diminish the beauty of her recital on the first day of June. Or of Cassie's recital, or of Eudora Welty's, for that matter.
Today is the day of the recital. The dogs are standing guard.
Actually, they're waiting to be adored by a long string of dog worshippers.
There are two halves to the program, with an intermission for cupcakes and a raffle. 40 chairs have been rented for the studio's inaugural outing. My best student, not called Virgie Rainey, is playing a Chopin Prelude. There will be duets to "Hot Cross Buns" and "The Merry Widow Waltz," and a retired doctor will play the first movement of Beethoven's Sonatina in G.
Everyone is coming to music for a different purpose. For some, it is important therapy. One has suffered serious neural damage, and is putting the synapses back together with the C-major scale. One passed by the window and posted a note through the mail slot to say that she would like to learn to play. Some show up after Pilates, some take the opportunity to have dinner out with their spouses beforehand, some bring eggs from their chicken coop, some arrive with baklava and wine. Music makes the world smaller. It makes it matter more. We are together in this. Virgie Rainey, danke schoen.
Thank you to the parents of Nursery Lane Studios for permission to reproduce these photographs.