I’m walking to my piano lesson, breathless, exhausted. I’m running late. I hate this feeling. It’s only midday but I feel like I’ve already put in a full day’s work and I’m ready for bed or a drink or both.
It can be like that when you are parenting a boy with ADHD superpowers. Simple tasks sprout unexpected dimensions. The whole of this Saturday morning has been taken up with the achievement of shopping for new basketball shoes. In. The. Store. An actual physical store with clerks, people and noise. Mother and son managing the explosion of sights and choices, without a meltdown. No time to sneak in some piano practice for the week; no time for the calming ritual of gathering my music and strolling leisurely to my lesson, four doors down from my house.
So here I am, speed-walking to class. Tapping and counting individual fingers on my thighs – a last-ditch effort at practice. Concentrating hard on exaggerated inhaling and exhaling on command. I must look like a mad woman. I feel like a mad woman.
Approaching my teacher’s house, the beauty of her garden starts to lower the cortisol levels, as does the piano melody coming from the upstairs studio. But as I let myself in through the front door, I can’t catch my breath. Before I realise it, I’m tiptoeing through the kitchen into her private living room. There are shelves and shelves of CDs and books, soft couches and armchairs, cat toys strewn about and overgrown, luscious house plants. I’m intruding. I shouldn’t be here … but it’s so peaceful, so wonderfully peaceful. I force an inhale and an exhale. Another. Again. It starts to feel like breathing. I’m ready.
I walk up to the studio, wash my hands and take a seat at the upright. With a deep breath—always the breath, I float my hands up and then hot-air-balloon them down into C position. I start with contrary motion scales.
‘Yes, much better,’ Julie says. I’m sure she can tell I haven’t practised all week. The fingering is self-conscious, but the sound is melodic and the rhythm is correct. ‘Finger four is coming along,’ Julie notices. That’s my phantom finger. The one I can’t feel. I’m rebuilding neural pathways.
I choose what’s next and Julie notices. ‘Oh, good, I was hoping you might be up for Edelweiss,’ she says brightly. She finds her accompaniment and goes to the grand piano. I have been preparing this piece for some months now. I’m pretty confident with it on my own. It’s the accompaniment that throws me off. My inner voice tells me I will never be able to duet.
Bar one, line one, phrase one; I’m playing. I can see my fingers landing on the right notes, in coordination with the notes coming from Julie’s piano. It’s going well. Don’t mess up.
And then I’m hearing music. In the space between the two pianos. I’m hearing the accompaniment, and I’m hearing my notes playing into it. Line two soars. I’m not aware of my fingers anymore. Just the music and the unbearably beautiful layering of notes into the arc of a phrase. What’s happening? Line three, I’m floating. The harmony is perfect. Disembodied. Divine. I panic. My fingers recoil from the keys. I jump up and walk away from the piano. I’m crying. I expect Julie to be surprised or worried. I try to explain. Before I can form any words, she explains for me.
‘You’ve caught a glimpse of heaven,’ she says. ‘That’s why we do the work.’
And then I know I will be practising the piano until the day I die.
I come back to the keys and we try again.