Sharps and Flats

The tick-tock of the metronome droned on, a death march toward the final crescendo of a Chopin Etude I’d been butchering all afternoon.

“Jenny, slow down, dear. Find the notes with your eyes. Then move your fingers and strike. Try again.”

Even admonishment sounded lovely in a British accent.

I eyed the giant tub of Super Bubble gum in the corner of the room, and I knew I had to do my best to be rewarded with a piece at the end of the lesson.

But alas, I continued to struggle, and Mrs. M signaled for me to vacate the bench so she could demonstrate.

“Once I play it for you, the proper notes will stick in your memory.  Your head will guide your hands.”

I stood behind her and observed as her deft yet graceful fingers flew across the piano keys with utter command of their timbres.

I’d never heard anything more beautiful.


I shuffled through the house from room to room looking for nothing and everything.  A clue to lead me to the next step, the next phase of what I’m meant to be doing.

Since turning forty-five, I’d been stuck in a tar pit of inertia pondering the meaning of life, in all its clichéd glory.

This general malaise is not conducive to being productive, especially when the phone seems to be constantly ringing and email relentlessly chiming with people wanting me.

I circled past the mahogany baby grand that swallows our living room, which I pass probably ten times a day without notice. But on this day, I paused.

“Well, hello, old friend. I’ve missed you.”

Wait, did anyone else hear that? If a tree falls in an empty forest, did it make a sound?

I eased back the antique bench with the broken brass hinge on top and gingerly lifted the lid to greet the time-worn sheet music within.

So many old favorites jumped out at me, pieces from my early years as a beginner, like Flower Fairy and Boogie Woogie Blues.  Then larger volumes of sonatas by Mozart and Haydn and two-part inventions from Bach. Reams of books of scales, chords and cadences, and arpeggios. 

Buried beneath the classics were the compilation books of popular music from the ‘70s and early ‘80s that I insisted on sneaking into my repertoire.

A little Muskrat Love, anyone? Or how about Rhinestone Cowboy? Theme from the Pink Panther, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Endless Love.

I even found the sheet music to Duran Duran’s New Moon on Monday, which pretty much signaled the end of my musical instruction.  My interest was waning. I had had enough.  I was moving on to seemingly more important things, like boys. Specifically, how to meet those boys and what to do with them after that.

My mother acquiesced and let me quit after I’d no doubt worn her down to a nub on the issue.  But getting Mother to agree to my abandonment was the easy part.

I’ll never forget the look in Mrs. M’s eyes, the disappointment and affront that almost seemed personal when I informed her, head down and mumbling, I was jumping ship.

She fought for her case, telling me I was one of her most talented students. That I might consider attending the famous London School of Music, from which she herself had three degrees.  “Or set your sights higher!” she begged. “Julliard! You are special! You can’t give up.”

I left that day with my tail between my legs, guilt-ridden by her speech but not enough to change my dense teenaged mind.

I agreed to perform at one last recital: a duet with a fellow student, a Beethoven Sonata, and Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, which was one of my all-time favorites.

But after that, it would be over.

I sped away in my newly-acquired, second-hand Oldsmobile, easing my conscience by popping in an INXS tape and reminding myself I had more important places to be.

Like the mall.


I wonder now how the course of my life might have been different had I kept with it. I didn’t have the dedication, perseverance, or work ethic to pull it off.  But what if I had?  Where might I be, and what might I have accomplished?

Music is in my blood. My veins might as well be speaker wire.  Music sustains me and keeps me from falling into a deep, dark place of no return.

But what I’ve been neglecting all these years is the joy of creating music, not just listening as a bystander.

Throughout the toil of raising babies, working at lackluster jobs, and meeting the endless demands on my time, I now realize I’d overlooked the importance of feeding my own soul.

I’d forgotten the therapeutic effects of banging out a Rachmaninoff concerto instead of banging my head against a wall.

This is what I have been missing.

I searched online for news of my dear old piano teacher, and not unexpectedly, found her obituary.  She passed away four years ago at the age of ninety-one.
I wonder if she ever thought of me again?

Full of resolve, I googled “piano tuner Houston.”

It’s time I reclaim what I’ve lost, what’s left of it.


  1. This is beautifully written. Here's to that second chance at Julliard!

    1. Thank you! I don't think I'll make it to Julliard, but I'd be satisfied with mastering Flower Fairy again :)

  2. This is beautifully written. Here's to that second chance at Julliard!

  3. Right on. Glad you're getting back to your passion!

  4. Good for you! It's never too late to do what you love. Thanks for sharing.

  5. There is always another chance. thanks for sharing! great post!

  6. Wow! That was beautiful!
    There are times, when we all go through these moments of 'what if', isn't it? What if I had worked harder at this or that, I might have been in a better place now. I do that almost everyday!
    I am impressed by your writing style, Mamarific! :-)

  7. Love this! I quite taking lessons when I was young too. I have no doubt that my talent was no where near yours but I still love playing and I miss it so much! I try to sit down whenever I'm at my parents, but usually I'm chasing my two little guys around. Or they sit down with me and bang away at the keys. :) You've brought back that longing with your words.


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