I was 10 years old, and I could have quit piano without a second thought.
I had first started playing at the age of 5. It was one of those activities that all parents give their kids, and like an average 5 year old, I was indignant at such a mindless endeavor. I remember spending all of my time churning out monotonous Hanon exercises, my fingers furiously poking at the black and white pieces of ivory, wishing all the while that these fingers could be instead poking at the newest Gameboy. At the time, my parents had never pressured me and indeed would encourage me to quit piano. Nevertheless, I could never imagine giving up on something that I have invested so much in. So I continued. And by 11, I had found music.
I no longer think of my fingers, agonize over impossible arpeggios, or cringe with every missed note in a running scale. Yes, I still have to practice, and yes, learning a piece does take time, but the learning process is no longer the destination, no longer is piano a dead piece of wood and ancient tree, a monster to be conquered. Instead, out of my fingers flows a stream of consciousness that can only be described by those who have experienced it. In the midst of a competitive musical world, I have learned through the years that the ultimate prize is not the competition won or the difficult piece mastered. It is not the pride of being the last person to play in the concert or of being the one to play the most difficult Liszt etude. It is for those moments of perfect silence, angry cacophony, and melodic heartthrobs, in the hope of touching others in a way that only music can touch.
I've had the opportunity to teach piano students ranging from ages 7 to 10. While most of them are full of eager faces and cute elementary school smiles, in some, I can see myself. I see the robotic hands going through the motions of a chore, the metallic face that only lights up at the end of a piece, the impatient posture that begs for a reprieve. It takes me back to my younger years, when the chances are stacked against every child who hopes to continue with piano. There are countless stories of child protégés who abruptly quit after years of playing piano, having never played for themselves, but for the adults and the competitions. Consequently, it is not the student who plays the best or the technique that surprises me the most that makes me happy at the end of the day, but the stoic child whose face lights up upon discovering the indescribable. I find myself teaching not to perfect their scales or hone in on their every mistake, but to find the glimmer of passion and love in each one of these kids and caress it, to grow a fleeting spark of joy into the discovery of music.