If you’re having a bad day, read this.

Grace Miles

My piano teacher would pretend to barf when I botched a piece of music.

She’d say that Beethoven would rise from his grave to strangle me, her favourite question being all variations of, Why?

Why would you play the rhythm this way?

Why are you crying?

She was in her fifties and was to undergo surgery for those large, glaring eyes.

We’d clap sonata rhythm for half an hour and she’d say, “I don’t know anyone who needs to count this out loud.”

Gradually, I learned to take her marks on the score like the words of my mother– precisely, without deviation– and near the end of our relationship, she smiled, then asked my opinion on the conservatory’s new grand piano shipped from Texas.

We all have this piano teacher in our lives, but we each deal with her differently.

a. I argue this is how I lost self-awareness.

When I step onstage, I’m convinced that people are making fun of me in their heads, with the eyes of my former piano teacher. My talk, then, becomes a performance because we all think it stinks and so there’s nothing to lose.

Maybe this is the best strategy for hosting my own event, too.

b. I can’t fall asleep in a bright room, so I’m curled on the corner of my couch watching Netflix. My event is in two weeks and I can’t look at my email inbox.

At 1am, I wake to a coughing fit. I run to the sink to spit foulness from my mouth and shake the last drops of herbal syrup from the bottle. When the convulsing ends, I lose track of how long I stay hunched over the sink, but the countdown for my event began weeks ago. I decide that I’m sick of being sick so I grab Dimetap from the cabinet.

The next time I rush to the sink, at 4am, I spit blood. I consider chewing spearmint gum to soothe the throat, but I’d have to get up and rinse the sugar from my mouth.

During the day, I text Kat that I can’t get anything done. We’re both watching Netflix, except she’s also Photoshopping posters and I am just coughing blood.

c. When I first invited Esther to help with my event, she brought a notebook and, like, 10 questions to our first meeting. I didn’t contact her for half a month afterwards because I was trying to book a venue.

Well, Esther became the president of a local business association and I never know when she’ll respond to my texts anymore.

Last week, we sat down for a meeting that I said wouldn’t last over 40 minutes. I produced sharpies and blank paper from my bag, then coughed while she listed ways to promote the event.

What that tells me, is that I couldn’t keep Esther interested. How can I do that, and is that my responsibility?

d. Someone in close to me is sick and I know enough through the movie Wit, what it’s like.

In the span of a month, he is cut and pierced and pumped, and pushed through Intensive Care and out. I remember waving as he is wheeled into the operating wing.

He cooks dinner sometimes, now. “Food is ready,” he says, for the third time.

“Yes, I know,” I say. I keep tapping at the keyboard.

When I get to the table, he’s staring at his own bowl that’s half the size of mine with his head in his hands. I used to ask if he was was okay, but we both know he’s not.

If you’re sick of what you know as a musician, then you have the option of stopping and you are better off than many people.

You can store it in a box. When I stopped practicing Liszt and Hanon, I knew I wouldn’t be tuning the piano for a while, but the music would be there when I need it. Muscle memory, right?

The challenge for anyone is to find your strengths by cycling through more things that burn you out. What you return to, when the burn out fades, is what you’re meant to be doing.

Thanks to Isaac Sim for taking the photo above!

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8 years ago

Famously, when such a dialogue develops between teacher and student. This is not just important, but necessary. otherwise achieve success will be either impossible or much heavier

Karen Boswell
Karen Boswell
8 years ago

I am so sorry you had a teacher like that. If you didn’t know how to count that particular rhythm in the Sonata, then she must not have given you good lessons in counting. A student should not be made fun of or put down because of the way they play but must be taught with kindness, love, and encouragement as well as by example.

5 years ago

More understanding of indeed…

4 years ago

Sorry to hear you’re having a tough time lately Grace. Though I don’t perform or play piano I can relate with a lot of this …