I fell in love for the first time when I was about 4 years old — with the piano. Even now I struggle to describe its sound — deeply resonant and full, percussive yet smooth — that completely captivates me. It’s a full SSAATTBB choir, an orchestra with as many violas as the heart desires, all conducted in one instrument.
As soon as I started taking lessons, I worked with determination to play everything flawlessly, to keep accelerating until I could create that sound and do justice to the instrument. I kept my wrists leveled, my fingers arched, my nails cut short. I followed each dynamic marking religiously, each crescendo and decrescendo rising and falling in numerically spaced increments. The metronome became my heartbeat, Circadian rhythm, blinking speed.
I progressed as I’d hoped, but I didn’t feel nearly the same way listening to myself play as I did listening to Rubenstein and Brendel. It really wasn’t until a few years later that my piano teacher at the time stopped me during a lesson, midway through a Chopin waltz, and took the sheet music away. “You have this memorized already,” she said. “Start over, and try singing as you play.”
Contrary to what my teacher thought, I wasn’t even close to memorizing all of the intricacies of the piece. Yet, even after nervously playing just a couple of lines, I started to hear it: the piece felt like a true dance, teeming with life and vitality, introspection and emotion. It was genuine music.
Especially during senior year, a lot of us have had to quantify our lives on paper in 650 words or fewer. Our daily activities are measured by hours spent and leadership titles, our knowledge and wisdom measured by a triple-beam balance of SAT scores, ACT scores, and GPA, our self-worth measured by awards and honors and college name.
However, when I remember my four years of high school and even the nine years that came before, I don’t remember the quantities. It’s the same with my piano experience — I don’t remember counting all 88 keys, measuring my growth as a musician by the number of pages of music I memorized. All I remember are the moments when I finally learned to play a piece to its fullest potential when I had captured all the subtleties, the life, the passion; when each slightly drawn back rubato made the heart ache; when I sounded the final chord of a long sonata or concerto and it rang throughout the room.
I remember still getting lost three weeks into my freshman year. When it comes to Julius Caesar, I will never forget that MLA in-text citations don’t include a comma and that “Caesar has seizures by the seashore” (Sheridan 2011). I remember our lab group of sophomores in AP Chemistry and the day someone brought in a wrench to Select World Lit. I remember building a parachute junior year that really just wasn’t a parachute.
Finally, senior year. Strangely enough, I don’t think I’ll remember what I wrote on my college applications or how many A’s I earned. I will definitely remember, though, my debate partner and I both nearly falling asleep at the Yale Osterweis tournament before discovering that we had to debate again in the final round. I’ll remember chasing my cat around my room at 2 a.m. to take a picture of him for my Presidential Scholars application (don’t ask). I’ll remember singing Benediction during my last Madrigals class and the entire alto section bursting into tears. I’ll remember walking to the Levitt Pavilion at 8 p.m. on the 22nd of November, looking over the dark water under the stars and feeling like the happiest person in the universe.
Without a doubt, there could have been no 13 years of school without grades, testing, a gradual progression of classes and difficulty, a lot of skills learned and a lot of knowledge gained. It’s the backbone of every piece of music, the foundation of who we become. But the part of all my years of school that brings the music to life will be those subtleties, those moments of laughter and sadness and failure and triumph that turn notes into music, that turn numbers and fragmented events into a story.