Though it was 27 years ago, I remember some things about my first piano lesson. I was very small, of course, which made the stone building at Daemen College in which my lessons took place seem all the larger. I remember climbing at least one curving flight of stone stairs with my mother. I remember that there was a long, lovely window, possibly even with a windowseat, to the right of the piano as I sat. I remember being asked to play, being told to keep my fingers curled lightly and my wrists suspended above the level of my hands. (Do I really remember having letters written on my fingernails and being told to curl my fingers enough that I could see the letters reflected back to me in the underside of the keyboard's cover? And what were those letters? HAND? STAR?) I remember playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and then playing it in variations. I remember that "run pony, run pony" was the most difficult variation: it took a familiar song and quadrupled the number of times I had to hit each key. "Bounce, roll, bounce," on the other hand, had a tantalizing pause over its middle note. And only one person I know will remember what the other variation was called. I have forgotten it.
I remember feeling nervous about whether I was doing things correctly.
My fingers remember what nine more years of that gentle curl, that carefully suspended wrist, felt like. There are things I never learned: how to use the pedals appropriately. How to read music fluently (this particular problem is not uncommon among Suzuki-trained children, apparently, which makes sense: I was trained to play by ear first, and I never made the transition). How to improvise anything. There are things I learned all too well: how to mark a recital's or a competition's date on my calendar and watch it coming closer and closer, until the moment when I had no choice but to start practicing regularly if I didn't want to look very silly. I never wanted to look silly.
I remember walking through a parking lot with my parents after a recital. I must have been about five. Each of them held one of my hands. On counts of three, they lofted my little self off the ground. The sky was grey.
I remember those strange, omnipresent sawblade spirograph symbols that were the Suzuki trademark. I remember getting to spend years and years in wonderfully close company with my mother: she drove me to every lesson; she sat with my teacher and me during every lesson for many years; she sat in a chair beside my piano bench while I practiced for many years. Sometimes she sat at her long quilt frame, and we worked together, she at her fabric and I at my fingering.
I know things now--about myself, about how my brain and body work, about the number of disparate pursuits I can keep going at one time, about patience, about motivations that are worthy and motivations that are not, about how to express and clarify desires--that I did not know in those long-ago years. I know about cognition, and I know about choice. I know how to do things for myself, how to want to excel for the sheer joy and gorgeous discipline of the thing, not for a ribbon or a certificate or a medal or a sticker.
I know about apprehension and worry. I also know about hope and eagerness.
How much difference that space of 27 years makes--and yet how little.