I feel it in my bones now. I’m healthy. I have a warm, safe place to live. I’m not alone. I have food. I can get more.
I’m in a lovely place. My favorite beaches may be closed, but I can hear the barking sea lions and the crash of the waves at high tide. I take pictures of jackrabbits and hummingbirds and sunsets over the water.
Still, I miss my old life. I wish I could snuggle up next to my students and use the skills and tricks I’ve mastered over the years. I miss playing along with Audrey to correct her rhythm without her even noticing. I miss Oscar walking into the studio in a foul mood and sending him out the door with a smile on his face. I will get to do these things again.
Just not now.
I am grateful that every day I still get to teach my students the language of music — a language so rich it can express the entire range of human emotions. And boy, are we
all having some emotions right now.
This morning I was listening to Charlie play Whippersnapper, a piece I’d dedicated to her even though at the time the book was published it was far too difficult for her. She was thrilled to play this piece I’d written just for her.
“That sounds wonderful, but you can stop practicing it for a while now,” I suggested.
“But I want to play it at the recital!” she protested.
Charlie loves to put on her fanciest dress and play something flashy at the Green Room, as you can see from this photo of her from last year’s recital.
My heart sank. She didn’t realize that our annual Mother’s Day recital was not going to happen.
“Charlie, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that Green Room recital like we usually do. But I promise you that you can play it on the very next recital, no matter when that happens. Even if that’s the Halloween recital. You will play it on a recital. Just not now.”
She looked relieved.
Then she did something I wasn’t expecting. She looked me in the eye through the computer and reached her tiny pinky finger straight out toward the screen. I reached mine back toward hers. Our fingers hooked, as real as if we were actually touching each other.
“Pinky swear!” we both called out. I tried not to let her see the tears in my eyes.
I’ll admit that during the first few weeks of this isolation I did nothing. I couldn’t teach, or write, or even read a book. I was trying to process what this change meant for me — for my family, my business and my spirit.
Last weekend, something changed. I woke up early and realized that I’d written a piece in my sleep. I hopped out of bed and wrote it down. (The last time I’d done that was when I wrote a piece called Extraordinary Kid. I’d literally jumped out of bed and written it down note-for-note as I’d written it in my sleep.)
This time was messier. I fought through the fog in my brain and finished the little book All Cooped Up. Yesterday I taught it to Peter, age eight, whose previous week’s lesson had been a master class of things that can go wrong in an online lesson. At least half of it was wasted trying to agree on which measure we were discussing.
Yesterday as we started his lesson, I spied the new little book printed out on the piano.
“It looks like you have something new to play today!”
“He got the joke!” his mom said cheerfully.
He had gotten the joke and was clearly delighted. I’d seen that he was All Cooped Up. We both were, and we’d agreed to make the best of it. I’d found a way to write something useful. He’d mustered the energy to give it a try.
I’ve always wanted to write another piece as good as Mashed Potato Clouds, by far my most popular piece. I don’t know that I’ve done that, but I wrote a new piece from my heart. I wanted to write something for young pianists to help them express what they’re going through. It’s designed for people who are old enough to understand what’s going on, but not advanced enough to play Chopin Nocturnes or Rachmaninoff Preludes to help them through.
Yesterday, after my student Audrey played it, I asked her what the piece made her think about. She said it reminded her of the little things that made her happy, like being at camp and doing silly things with her friends. She paused. “The things we can’t do right now…” she admitted.
I called the piece Just For Now to remind us all that, though we can’t do the things we love right now, we will do them again. We will be with our loved ones. We will take walks on the beach. We will teach in our own studios.
The father of two of my piano students is a brilliant photographer. When his family went into isolation he started a series called Portraits in Isolation. The beautiful pictures in this post are his way of finding meaning in this time. You can see all of them at instagram.com/fanvu or at https://www.facebook.com/fanvu.
I’m finding my meaning by giving voice to the feelings we all have, as teachers, students, as humans. By giving them voice in words, and most importantly, in music.