“Honey, what’s the matter?”
I walked into my youngest daughter’s room to tuck her in for the night and discovered her practically awash in tears. “Why are you crying, sweetheart?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed, wiping her tears on the sleeve of her pajamas. “I’m just sad.”
“Why are you sad? Is anything wrong?” Being the only man living in a house full of women has taught me to be patient when trying to fathom the complex mysteries of female emotion. This one in particular is a tough nut to crack and she requires lots of questions to get her talking about her feelings.
“Do your legs hurt?” Over the past few weeks she has experienced severe leg pains at night; “growing pains” we call them.
“No, I’m just tired.” Her standard answer for “I don’t want to talk about it right now because I haven’t fully explored the depths of this emotion yet myself” confuses me. Just ten minutes ago she was a happy-go-lucky sixth grader as she placed her request for me to play on the piano while she brushed her teeth and got ready for bed.
I circled back around to one of her previous answers; usually an effective icebreaker for me. “What are you sad about?”
As she prepares her answer I give her a monster tuck, one of her favorites, pulling her comforter up to her chin and wrapping her like a mummy, pinning her arms tightly to her sides. This is not a tuck for the claustrophobic or faint of heart. I kiss away her tears and encourage an answer, “What’s making you so sad?” I reach over and turn off her light because sometimes answers come easier in the darkness.
“It was so pretty. I had to cry.”
“What was pretty?” I’m still lost but starting to make some headway; she’s opening up. I think to myself, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." I was gearing up to impart some fatherly wisdom.
“The music,” she paused, “It was so pretty but it made me feel so sad inside. I had to cry.”
I thought to myself, Vangelis’ theme to Chariots of Fire is sad? In the almost twenty-five years since I first played that piece I have heard it called many things, but sad was never one of them. As I thought back to my high school years, I remembered why I loved that piece so much. It was because of the energy I could put into the keys as I pounded out the first seven measures of staccato sixteenth notes. What teenaged boy wouldn’t love the rapid pace and heavy punishment of the ivory this song demands of the pianist? I can still hear Mrs. Janes emphatically calling out time for me, “one-e-and-uh, two-e-and-uh, three-e-and-uh, four-e-and-uh” and clapping her hands to emphasize the staccato nature of the introduction.
But, in quieter times, I also remember Mrs. Janes encouraging me to put my heart into the pieces I was learning to play. Every time I heard that directive, I would recommit every fiber of my being into the piece, playing ever harder, sadly realizing I was not accomplishing her desired effect but not knowing how to change my style to reflect my heart in the piece.
I realized tonight that, while I had started playing the piece with my typical tempo and gusto, a feeling of melancholy had swept over me part way through the song. Tonight I had unconsciously played the song differently than I had ever played it before. The music spoke to me and I had responded as I massaged the keys.
“Would you like me to play it again for you?” Heather nodded. “I will check on you when I am done, okay?”
“Okay.” In the dim light I could see the faint smile she managed to tweak out for me.
This time, as I started to play her request, I played through my heart.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.