My daughter just had her first piano recital. It didn’t turn out quite the way I expected, but it was a night we won’t forget.
Sarah is 7-years-old and started taking piano lessons last June. With about a month off in August for summer break, she’s had a total of five months of lessons. In this short time she has made impressive progress, and absolutely loves playing the piano. After spending her entire life being dragged to countless sporting events for her two older sisters, Sarah has found her “thing.” When she learned her first piano recital was in December, she was initially nervous, but then quite excited. At long last, she had an event for the family to watch.
We arrived 15 minutes early at the church where the recital would take place so that Sarah would have a chance to practice on the unfamiliar piano before it was time to perform. Her eyes widened when she saw all the people gathering in the sanctuary, and her little body literally began to shake.
“I can’t do this, mommy!” she hissed. I attempted to reassure her, but she only became more anxious. We left the sanctuary and found her piano teacher, Mr. Stram. He could tell by one look at Sarah that she was terrified. I hoped he would have the magic combination of words to ease her fears. But he didn’t. She was still scared, and nearly in tears. He assured her that she didn’t have to play, and told me that if there was no joy for her in playing, then we shouldn’t force her. We were to signal him if she changed her mind while we watched the recital, and then Sarah could go up front and play.
Our family of five sat and waited for my mom and mother-in-law to arrive. Beside us was the single wrapped rose I had bought to give Sarah after her performance. “Who is that for?” Sarah asked. I explained that I had brought it to give to her after she played. “So I can’t have it unless I play?” she asked, her brow creased. I assured her that she could have the flower whether she performed or not, but I would really love to see her play. Sarah looked sadly at the rose, her bottom lip quivering.
The pianists performed by age, starting with the youngest. When it came time for Sarah’s spot, Mr. Stram paused and glanced our way. The look of terror returned to Sarah’s face, and she shook her head no. Unfazed, Mr. Stram announced the next pianist. Sarah sat back and lowered her head, and giant tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’ve never had so much pressure in my life,” she choked out.
“It’s okay,” I said, “you don’t have to play.There’s always next time.” I put my arm around her and held her close.
The reassurance from our family as we sat in the pew with Sarah seemed to have little effect. The silent tears continued. “I want to play,” Sarah said, her little voice full of pain, “but I just can’t.” My heart ached for her, and I understood what she meant. Fear held her in its dark grip, and she was paralyzed by it. I knew fear well, especially the fear of getting up in front of people and having all eyes on you. My heart ached for her, and for my powerlessness to take her tears away. So I did the only thing I knew to do, the only thing that I could do as we sat in that pew, watching other people’s children get up on the stage and play.
I prayed. Silently but whole-heartedly, I pleaded with God. I asked Him to help Sarah overcome her fear. As the recital went on, and Sarah’s tears continued, I asked Him how this moment could be turned into something good even if Sarah didn’t get on the stage and play. I didn’t want the bitter pain of regret to be what Sarah remembered about this night.
Then an idea came to me. We would wait until the recital was over, after everyone had left the sanctuary, and I would ask Sarah to get up on the stage and play just for our family. She would still have her performance, and it would be good practice for future recitals.
Near the end of the concert, Sarah’s first-grade teacher – who is also Sarah’s favorite teacher of all time – walked into the sanctuary with her daughter. Sarah’s entire demeanor changed. She nearly bounced out of her seat and smiled, then pushed her way out of the pew to run and give Mrs. Mercer a hug.
“I thought it began at 4:00 p.m.” Mrs. Mercer whispered to me as she found a seat in a pew behind us. Both Mrs. Mercer and her daughter are piano students. I didn’t know if they were supposed to play, but I could see the disappointment on Mrs. Mercer’s face. My own dismay in the evening was replaced by empathy. Sometimes things just didn’t go as planned, no matter how much we planned, or how good our intentions.
Sarah pulled on my arm. “I think I can play after the next person is done,” she whispered.
“O.K.,” I said, a bit surprised by her change of heart. It seemed the sight of her favorite teacher had bolstered Sarah’s spirits. “Just give me the word and I will raise my hand so Mr. Stram knows.” I wasn’t sure if she could play out of sequence, but it was worth a shot.
The next pianist finished. “Ready?” I asked.
Sarah shook her head, and sat back in her seat. “Maybe after the next one.”
We had the same conversation three more times. Finally, the recital was over. Mr. Stram invited everyone to the hospitality area for refreshments, then came to our pew and signaled Sarah and I over to him. “I was thinking,” he said, “how about if after the sanctuary is empty, your family moves to the front pew and Sarah plays just for you.” Sarah nodded her head excitedly up and down and I smiled, relieved that Mr. Stram and I were on the same page. He made his way back up to the front, and Sarah followed him. She pulled on his sleeve. He bent over and she talked animatedly. The next thing I saw was Mr. Stram conversing with Mrs. Mercer. She smiled and nodded, and then took a seat near the front of the sanctuary. The room was nearly empty now, and I picked up on enough of the conversation to understand that, at Sarah’s request, Mrs. Mercer would also be staying for the private recital.
Our family moved to the front pew. Sarah jumped up on the stage and sat at the piano. In her brand new dress and with her back straight as a fine arrow, she focused on her sheet music and played, beautifully and flawlessly, for a small group of people who adored her. After she was done, she grabbed her music and jumped off the stage and ran to me, a huge smile on her face.
“Do I get my flower now?” she asked, her eyes lit up like stars. I handed her the single pink rose, and held back my tears. Sarah beamed with simple joy, and maybe a bit of pride. The tears, the fear, and the disappointment were gone. Love had stolen the show, and its performance cannot be outdone.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them – Romans 8:28