*Rich Day, one of this blog’s most active participants, shares a lovely story that’s guaranteed to give you what my mother-in-law calls a “leaky faucet moment.” ~ Susan
Both of my daughters, Christine and Shannon, took up the piano, along with all the lessons, the hours of practice, and the nervousness of performing at recitals.
In particular, the performance aspect of piano was an act of courage for Christine, who is quiet and reserved, but she did very well. She’s an enigma in her quiet ways, a girl who will not be held back in spite of some discomfort.
This true story takes place at their first piano competition.
The aspect of competing added a new layer of nerves, and they practiced their pieces for months before heading off on a Saturday morning for the event.
I will say, my younger daughter Shannon performed beautifully. In fact, she won second place in her division, and we were so proud of her! This story, however, is only about Christine.
The competition was held in a large auditorium, with a stage at the front, one grand piano, and a single seat. The stage, positioned in front of a sea of people, looked to me like a very lonely place to be, and I couldn’t help but feel comforted by the fact that I would remain in the spectators’ seats.
At times like these, you hope for some measure of luck; and as we read through the program, we saw that Shannon was to be the “lucky” girl, the one who would perform first in her division. Fortunately, there was no one else playing her piece.
Then we looked at Christine’s division. It was a very crowded group. Three other performers besides Christine were playing “Clair De Lune,” and she was to play last. My nerves instantly multiplied like breeding rabbits.
So I sat back and listened as each competitor played “Clair De Lune.” What I heard was very competent and precise performances. These kids were very good!
Each time the piece was played I looked towards the judges to my left. They sat in a row, three of them, and I could only see the face of the judge closest to me. After each performance her expression was implacable, not even showing a hint of emotion.
As I wondered why she seemed so stiff, I realized this was a woman who had no doubt heard this piece played hundreds of times before. She was just hearing the same song played three more times.
But, for me, hearing these kids play, and the manner in which they played, took me back to a moment weeks before, as I listened to Christine practice. She played the piece exactly how her competition was playing it here at the competition: competently, skillfully hitting every note with great precision.
As she practiced, I got up, stood behind her, and asked her to show me the music. She pointed at the page and, to my mind, what I saw was a jumbled, complicated sheet, containing indecipherable notes. So I asked her again, “Show me the music.”
Christine didn’t understand what I was asking, so I explained myself in a different way.
“You do realize that this sheet music is nothing more than the best road map this composer could give you to find his music. This music was born in his heart, he found it there, and the only place you can find it isn’t on this page, but in your own heart.”
My flashback is interrupted by the cold sound of hearing Christine’s name over the loudspeaker as she’s called to the stage. She was to be the very last person to perform.
Christine made her way up to that most lonely spot, a single seat in front of hundreds of people. I can’t imagine how nervous she must have felt, because even my nerves were hard to control.
Then it began. Christine bowed, sat, and started to play.
Well, kind of.
Instead of “Claire de Lune,” what came out was gibberish. She played a few random notes, then stopped.
A hush came over the crowd. There wasn’t a single sound, except for a gasp or two.
She started and stopped like this three times, each attempt sounding the same - a few strange notes were played, nothing more. The music had disappeared from her memory.
Every fiber of my being wanted to go scoop her up off that stage and carry her away, but I stayed seated and waited - for a miracle.
The courage Christine displayed next was a moment of bravery I can’t even imagine. Because I, in no way, share the same degree of fortitude she was able to call upon in that incredibly intense moment.
(Favor: Please press PLAY on the video to the right, then continue reading. Thank you.)
As she continued to survive through her stumbles, Christine stood up, paused for a few seconds, sat back down again, and — please forgive me as I add some imagination to the story — a spirit walked on stage to join her.
As Christine stood there, her eyes on the crowd, the spirit said, “Christine, don’t look at them, look at me.”
He then took her hand, placed it over his heart and said, “Let me show you my music.”
Slowly, they sat down together, side by side, and he began to whisper in her ear, “You see, Christine, there was moonlight and a girl. And…”
Instantly, she began to play again, notes that were as soft as the spirit’s whisper. What was to follow was a song the audience had not heard all morning.
“Christine, this next passage is about the way the moonlight played on her hair,” the spirit continued to whisper.
She continued, each note being played just as beautifully as the one before.
Then the music began to build, and the spirit continued to whisper through his tears, “Christine, this was my longing for her.”
The tears, those of Claude Debussy, moved me deeply; because, in that very moment, I too began to cry. No, not a single errant tear - these were great sobs!
Quickly, I pulled out the mental man-corks we men keep in the shirt pockets of our minds and tucked them carefully into my tear ducts, but I couldn’t stop the shaking of my shoulders! The notes were descending on all of us, falling upon our ears, like the tears of Debussy, with such beauty, such longing.
I couldn’t understand what was happening. But I did wonder if it was possible that I was hearing with a father’s ears. So, because I was unsure as to whether or not I was the only person in the building struck with emotion, I looked over to my left to find that judge, the one with the implacable stoic face, but she wasn’t there. In her place was a different woman, one with shaking shoulders, and tears flowing freely down her face, without concern for how she may appear to those around her.
My beautiful little girl, my sweet Christine, had moved the emotions of an entire assembly, not with a bold, excitedly intense performance that’s commonly known to attract applause, but with a QUIET, songful whisper that came in the form of a brave, young woman I’m proud to call my daughter.
We went to this competition hoping our daughters would do well. We thought we might find a trophy or two. Instead, Christine’s survival in song awarded us with so much more:
Courage, uncommon courage … That was the prize of our day.
Even now, as I sit here and write this, I cry, yet again, without concern for how I might be perceived by those who are reading this.
Why? Because my heart is filled with joy over this memory’s song.
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That was such a beautiful story. I recently watched your TED video and found this website. Thank you so much for your contribution to the world of introverts. So many of us, including myself, feel so alone, but hearing stories like ones I know from my own life, show me the proof of others. Thank you. Your daughter was very brave, I could never get my fingers to stop shaking when I played in front of people.
Thank you for sharing this moving story. Reading it was quite an experience…and I must admit that I shed a few tears.
nice and touching story.
thanks for sharing. so touching, i can’t sto crying. love.
OMG, this is so beautiful, I was attracted by the title of this article and couldn’t imagine it would be such a great story. Crying a lot here. Love, love, love it!
You told this story with grace, love and a firm belief in your daughter. Thanks for sharing this. I will continue to let it inspire me and share it with others.
Thank you for sharing such an emotional and moving story. I wish I could have been there to experience it.
Thanks to my incredibly wonderful daughter, I wish you all could know her, she is pure goodness! And thanks to Susan Cain…someone who cares deeply about a single soul, enough to cry at a story like this about someone she has never met. And I am grateful to you all as well for enjoying our story. In my regular job, I sell packaging, but I’m thinking of giving it up to go in the “hankie” business. I hear the market is booming right now!
I don’t know what to say, other than thank you - and Christine - for this story. I can barely type through happy tears.
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What a beautiful telling of such a wondrous story. Thank you!
What a beautiful story! Your daughters are both very lucky to have a father like you. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!
I feel so fortunate to know Christine and your beautiful family. Christine was incredibly brave and is so gifted. I have seen that gift again in her video from Italy. Rich, you also have a talent of story-telling. Don’t stop. Thank you!
I’ll say thank you all one more time. This community has so many wonderful, caring people. Thank you all for enjoying Christine’s story. Jackie, you are also so right about the video. Top notch! Have a fabulous week, all!
A most beautiful story, and reminder of how musicians should and can interpret any and all works; a much richer existence is realized as a result by even the untrained ear, thank you for inspiration, “quiet” be my new rule… pc