My relationship with the piano began when I was young.
I came home from school one day and there it was. Big. Shiny. And in our living room.
My parents probably had dreams of a piano virtuoso in the family, but the reality sounded very different. I had neither the talent nor the discipline to master it. Yet every day, they insisted I practise.
I wanted to burn that family piano.
I had many teachers that came and went, but I remember Mrs L the most. She was stern but fair. A woman of few words who dragged many a reluctant student to the instrument.
One year she dangled the fear of failure in front of me.
“I am concerned,” she said. “If you do not practise seriously, you are going to fail your music exam.”
It worked. I practised. A lot. When I told her my exam result, she smiled. “Good,” she said and gave me another piece of music to work on. It was high praise indeed. And I still remember it.
She was always Mrs L to me. My piano teacher. I was too young to realise she was a musician too with her own hopes and ambitions.
She gave a concert once. It was the only time I saw her on stage.
Some days, perhaps even a week before the concert I overheard snippets of conversation between my parents.
“She has nightmares. She’s terrified,” said mum.
“Of course she would be. They took their passports,” dad replied.
That’s when I found out Mrs L was also a wife and mother. Someone who had a family far away. A family she loved and felt she could leave for a time to pursue her music. When she applied for citizenship, the message from her homeland was clear. Return now or risk losing your family.
She had gone to their reeducation camps. She played their propaganda music. She worked in a factory filling tins with biscuits. Only here was she free to play what she wanted.
The night of the concert Mrs L came out to polite applause. She sat and started to play. I wish I could remember what she played. All I could see was my teacher, desperately holding on to her music, playing as if nothing else mattered.
When she stopped the hall erupted with noise. People were on their feet, cheering and clapping. Their stomps rumbled through the floor and out into the night. They were willing her to go on. For her music to continue.
And that night, underneath the stage lights, Mrs L made me hate the piano a little less. And love freedom a little more.