In elementary school, when I had started piano for a few years and sometimes learned songs from the screen of the digital piano showing me which keys to hit, I wanted to be someone who could sit down and whip off a song to impress my friends. I wanted to impress a few specific people and I wanted them to tell me that I’m good. I started piano later than most kids so I worked hard.
There was an opportunity to perform at a school event, and a violinist girl and I were picked to play a duet.
We were practicing in the school basement one afternoon when another girl wandered down to join us. She’s someone who gets what she wants whenever she wants it, her clothes are all the coolest clothes that are a little too low for her height, her shirts a little too tight, revealing a little more skin than every other girl her age. Once, she made a comment about my pants being too high up my waist and then in elementary school I never wore pants that crept within 10cm of my bellybutton again.
So she wanders down to the piano where we’re practicing. I’m playing this piece that doesn’t have difficult notes but for some reason my fingers aren’t making all the jumps and sometimes I make up notes. I think the violinist can figure it out but she doesn’t comment. The only thing she comments on is the speed; I have to play a constant speed for her to follow.
When the third girl comes, all practice stops. She plays random notes on the piano, she tries to play Mary Had a Little Lamb in an obvious, sing-songy way of not knowing how to play it but I wouldn’t be surprised if she would pretend to not know something and ask someone to teach her when she knew it all along.
She says, “Play something.”
“Me?” I say.
“Uhm,” I say. “What do you want me to play?” I feel like there’s so much I could play.
“Just let your hands caress the keyboard.” She’s very good at toeing the line for almost making fun of a person.
“Okay.” I play half a page of a Chopin Waltz I’d memorized. It’s my favourite one, it’s a grade 9 piece so it’s one of the hardest pieces I know, especially with the cadenza and trills.
I take my fingers off, right after the cadenza, you know how Chopin has those cadenzas that are just the right amount of dissonant, then they resolve into the tonic and the world is alright again?
The girl says to the violinist, “Can you play too?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Ok, now you play.”
I get up from the bench and she slides in. She plays a Canon, I think it’s Pachelbel. Something super easy. Something I could play in my sleep. But it’s fast. She plays it way too fast. But nice harmonies are still nice harmonies.
When the violinist lifts her fingers, everyone is silent for half a second.
The girl says, “Why does she play better than you?”
“Why does she play better than me?” I say.
“Uhm….” I say. “I don’t know.” I shrug. My heart is pounding. I suck. I started piano too late.
In hindsight, maybe she was impressed by speed or maybe when I ended the Chopin it was right after a run and didn’t seem satisfying.
If she wanted speed, I could’ve given her Beethoven. I guess I can’t tell if I suck at piano or if she didn’t like that piece or if she didn’t like me. I’m struggling on the duet anyways.
If she said I’m good at piano, then I’d know that I’m actually good. She has all the best clothes and the best everything.
I spent the afternoon wondering if she’d be friends with me if I’d been better at piano.