Psalm 108:1 “My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul.”

This story was written as a gift to one of the greatest teachers I have ever had-one who not only taught me the language and theory of music, but also taught me patience and endurance. This descriptive essay was written in 2006 to encompass a span of thirteen years and one of the greatest spans of learning in my life.

It was snowing outside, just a week before Christmas. A small girl in a scarlet dress tiptoed to the front of the stage inside the church, nervously glanced at the audience, and took a bow. Sitting on the piano bench, she placed her tiny fingers on the cold keys of the large grand piano. She peered over her shoulder to see her piano teacher, a tall lady with long blonde hair, standing at the podium at the front of the church. The girl smiled back, then timidly began to play her first recital piece. The sound of the six-lined, one-handed melody was like the song of a music box, simple, yet sweet. Less than a minute passed and the song ended; the child bowed and strolled back to her chair. The teacher proudly smiled and applauded with the rest of the crowd and then announced the second student. The sound of her voice comforted the six-year-olds disquietude.

This was the girl who begged her mother at age four to learn how to play the piano. The girl whose mother told her that she was too young but maybe when she was older. This was the girl who, with her big brown eyes and persistence, convinced her mother to call a piano teacher. This was the girl, who at first was turned down by the piano teacher over the phone in a conversation with her mother. “She has to be at least seven years old,” the teacher said. “The only exception is if the student has significant talent, and that I would have to judge on my own.”

Sure enough the little girl and her mom made a trip over to the piano instructor’s house and the teacher asked the girl to play whatever she wanted on the piano. The girl looked at her mother nervously and then at the teacher. She sat down at the piano and began to play simple melodies. “She’s never had lessons before?” The teacher asked the girl’s mother. “No,” she replied. “She just sits down and plays simple songs that actually sound good for a five-year old.” The teacher was in somewhat disbelief. “She can start lessons,” she told the girl’s mom. The girl’s eyes lit up immediately. “Mommy did you hear that? She’s gonna be my piano teacher!” At age five, whether or not she knew it, a simple dream came true that would later unfold to a beautiful song.

Lisa Batten was the girl’s piano teacher. She encouraged the girl to practice hard and strive for her goals. She showed the girl that one day all of the hard work would pay off. She taught the value of dedication and showed that dreams can come true.

The little girl at the recital is me. Lisa had such an impact on me from the very first day until today. My dream was to be exactly like those older students at the recital who had played for many years and who played beautiful songs. From the night of that first recital, my goal was to be one of those last few students who had the grand finale at the end of the recital. That night I was the first, least experienced student. Little did I know that I would soon finish differently.

“Practice each song four times a day,” Lisa told me. Many times I stared at the song pages full of small black notes. The notes were hundreds of black ants crawling over a white sheet of paper and everything turned to a blur. I placed my fingers on the keys but could not decipher the first line of the music. I was overwhelmed to say the least. This learning to play the piano was not easy at all. She told me that there was a time for everything, and mastering a new song would not be done in one or two weeks. I had great difficulty being patient as I learned my new songs because I longed to be transformed into a virtuoso in a matter of minutes. I just wanted the time to pass.

“Great pianists spend hours, days, and even years practicing and perfecting their pieces,” she explained. One year was a century on my clock, but Lisa’s encouraging words and patience with me was enough to help me finish a song. With her help, I gained motivation to practice. If I had not had a teacher like her, I would have given up long ago, ending all of the beautiful melodies that had once begun as a child.

I almost quit piano lessons in middle school and then again in high school. I almost ended the hours of practicing, the competitions, the recitals, and the performances. But something kept me going. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. For a period of six months to a year when I was a freshman I played the piano for an hour every day. Not necessarily practicing for my lessons, but just playing because it was something I loved. I didn’t realize that I was actually getting better as a pianist, for every extra hour I played. Years later I found that persistence over many years had paid off, and had gradually transformed me into a sound, performing, pianist. Lisa was right. The hard work had paid off.

Eleven years after that first piano recital, Christine Bailey, the same girl who was once trembling as she played her first song, was now confidently walking to the stage to play her final selection. She sat down at the grand piano, which didn’t seem like such a monstrous instrument as it had before. Once again, she looked over her shoulder to observe her teacher, now with short blonde hair, relaxed in a chair at the front of the church with a glimpse of satisfaction in her eyes. This was the last time for a long time she would perform and the thought made her sad. This was the time to show herself, her teacher, her parents, and God what years of hard work could do. What years of dreams and hidden talent coming out in the form of music could do. This student, who was once the first student, was now the final performer at the recital. Now eighteen years old and all grown up, she placed her hands upon the smooth piano keys and confidently began to play the fast, upbeat, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, her favorite Christmas song by Manheim Steamroller. She relaxed as she played her selection and her eyes overflowed with happiness as the memories from her first piano recital flooded her mind. As she concluded her performance, the applause was louder than anything she had heard at one of her recitals, not to mention the longest. This was it; her senior recital as an accomplished pianist. With those same sparkling eyes at age five, scanned the audience, took her final bow, and strolled to the farthest seat smiling because this musical transformation, her childhood dream, had come true.