My patient teacher.

As a child pianist, I was possessed of a fairly childish lack of interest in practicing consistently between lessons. This year, I find myself possessed instead of a fairly adult lack of time to accomplish all the things I want to accomplish--including practicing consistently (and sufficiently) between lessons. When my teacher sent me a text message this morning to find out whether I was still planning to come to my 3 p.m. lesson, I confess that I half-hoped that my "if that's still okay" reply would elicit a counter-suggestion that we should postpone; there wasn't much time to practice while I was off scampering over hill and dale in the manner of the Welsh lambs all around.

But she wrote back and said she'd see me at 3, and so at 2:15 I trotted off to her house. I felt a bit ashamed even to think about, much less to demonstrate, how little work I'd managed to do this week. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still expect my teacher to reprimand me when I haven't done enough. Instead, after I told her roughly where I was and what I thought I needed from her, she intuited what I actually needed from her: forty minutes of guided work on the pieces I'll play in next month's recital: the first of Schumann's Kinderszenen and the last of Bach's Three-Part Inventions. The Schumann is particularly difficult for me right now because it seems so simple but involves so very many details and dynamics that must be kept in balance at any given moment: thumbs that must be light, chords whose bottom notes must be intense, a melody that must sing above everything, ritardandos that must come on and then wear off again, phrases that must breathe. Without once losing her patience with me, my lovely teacher helped me work through each step of improving the piece, as I played its parts over and over again, adjusting pressure and sound quality and tempo here and there. By the time I reached the Bach, I was well warmed up and far more confident, confident enough to perform the piece rather than to play it as an importuning for help. When I'd finished, she found ways both to praise the piece's development and also to help me refine it even further.

I think once again to the wonder I felt after my first mini-lesson with this teacher in October, wonder at the gorgeousness of having someone focus all her pedagogical talent and energy on what I can and should do with my two hands, her marvelous old piano, and the notes before me. Today, far more than on that first October day, I needed the kind of quiet care that anchors that kind of pedagogy. It didn't repair all the awryness of this week's opening; I still spent much of the evening feeling a bit too much like a tiny plane with its tail sheared partly off. But it was a renewal, a recharge and reassurance of the sort that I needed right at that moment; her calm critiques and praise smoothed at least some of what's been ruffled.