My son had his first piano recital yesterday.
He is NOT someone who relishes being in the spotlight, on stage, watched intently in any way.
It was a big deal.
As I watched him and the 24 other students perform, I found myself overcome with emotion many times, not just maternal pride, but something deeper, something that wasn’t just about me and my boy.
It think what I was sensing is all of the ways a GOOD recital reflects the best parts of our world, and I don’t know about you, but I could use a little reminding right about now of some of the best parts of our world, not so I can ignore the bad, but so I can remember WHY I care about the bad, so I can remember why hope and effort matter so much.
Life Lessons in the Recital Hall
1. Community Matters. We all know this, but sometimes we get so involved in our own stuff that we forget. We forget about the people who make some of our own stuff possible. When we arrived (early so he could see the room, get comfortable, maybe even run through his piece), the performance space had been completely rearranged and decorated to provide the best experience for performer AND audience. Tables were set up and decorated and treats arrived with each family so that everyone could enjoy something afterwards. It was festive, and it took work. Community matters.
2. There will most likely always be someone who is better than you. When we arrived yesterday, my son walked into the sanctuary of the church where the recital was held to find a very advanced student warming up on her piece. He had hoped to sit at the grand piano for a minute to see how it felt, but quickly lost his interest in playing anything after she was finished. He didn’t want to be compared to her AT ALL. He was already doing enough of that himself. He didn’t tell me so, but I know he was afraid that all of the other performers would be more like her and that he would be the only beginner.
3. You are never the only beginner. What he discovered when a family friend (who also was there supporting a performer) clued us in to the other piano in a more private location where he could practice is that he was far from the only beginner, and perhaps more importantly, he was not the oldest beginner. The recital featured students of all ages at all stages in the learning process. It is much easier to be kind to ourselves as beginners when we remember we are not alone.
4. Everyone makes mistakes. Of the 25 or so pieces that were played, I think there were 2 in which there were no mistakes I could discern. All of the students made mistakes – different levels of mistake, but mistakes nonetheless. And you know what happened? Not a darned thing. Nobody asked them to step away from the piano. Their teacher did not get frustrated. Their parents did not shame them. They had the grace of the group to handle their mistake and finish the piece they had prepared. The audience cheered for everyone because everyone makes mistakes.
5. A corollary: being perfect is not the point. When students prepare for a recital, they are sure that the point is to play the piece flawlessly, but I am pretty convinced that this is not the point at all. The recital offers an opportunity that is far greater, far deeper, far more important for the development of the self and the soul than playing a piano piece perfectly. The point of the recital is to share yourself, and to do without being deterred by fear or flaw. The point of the recital is to take a moment to acknowledge growth, development of skill and to grow and develop as a human by keeping fear at bay and getting to the finish line no matter what. Being perfect was never the point.
6. It is never too late. My son was so sure he would be embarrassed by his beginner status ate the ripe old age of 10. Amongst the students yesterday were several adults. Some were very advanced. Some were not as advanced, but they reminded us all that it is never too late. It is never too late to try something new. It is never too late to improve a skill. It is never too late to spend time on something that fills your heart. It is never too late to share yourself. It is never to late to have another chance to put fear in its place and go through with your plans as you made them. It is never too late.
7. The audience wants you do well AND wants you to feel good. They want you to do well, but not really because they don’t want to listen to poorly performed music (although there might be a little of that). They mostly want you to do well because they want you to have a good experience. They want you to feel proud of yourself. They want you to have concrete evidence of the growth and courage that they see when you walk to the front of the hall. The audience even loves you, not just your parent. They are all holding you in hope and compassion as you take that risk.
I know that a recital is not the world at large, that a smaller group of people with similar interests might be different, kinder to one another, special, but isn’t it possible that these things are or CAN be true everywhere, especially if we look for it, if we don’t imagine that they’re not true or only notice when people behave badly?
Isn’t it possible that there is a safe space in the world for you to share yourself, to acknowledge what you’ve been up to, to give of yourself, to set fear aside and just do the thing so we can all cheer for you?
I’ll be the one in the front row with an inappropriate noise-maker and glittery signs.
Go do that thing.