By: Niles Reddick | Posted on: March 2018
When I banged my knee on the wooden seat one aisle below mine in the Christian college’s auditorium, I almost said something aloud I knew I would regret, and I didn’t want to embarrass my daughter at the piano recital. Like most recitals I had participated in or attended, the teacher began with the youngest. They were sitting on the front row, all dressed up and legs and feet dangling and wiggling in their seats. Their parents, grandparents, and others filled the auditorium, and flashes from cameras---some on phones or 35mm’s on tripods in the aisle--- filled the near dark space while recessed lighting glowed on stage around their angels and the Steinway.
The first group of five played simple songs: “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Old McDonald had a Farm,” “Row Row Row your Boat,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “Yankee Doodle.” Everyone recognized these tunes, and only one of them pressed the D key instead of the C, but the little girl kept going until she finished. I was impressed that she didn’t flinch. I wondered if she even knew she’d made a mistake. Each of them stepped forward and took a bow.
The next group was a bit older, but not teens. Their clothing fit better and they seemed less socially awkward. Most of their feet reached the pedals, and their musical selections were a bit more complicated, using both hands and moving from one octave to another: “Ave Maria”, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” “What a Wonderful World,” and “Let it Be.” A young man, with shoulder-length dark hair hit a few wrong keys and “Mother Mary come to me” sounded more like “Mother Mary went somewhere dark and off key.” Again, the young folks took their bows, the boy with hippie-hair slinging his hair forward and back.
The final group were teens who played “Moon River,” “Canon in D major,” and “Beethoven’s Fur Elise.” My daughter played Joplin’s “Ragtime: The Entertainer,” a piece I had once played in a recital, though I’d never told her. I was worried it might adversely impact her performance.
I’d felt my heart beat in my throat and my head. I’d walked to the piano bench wearing a leisure suit, silk shirt, and elevator loafers. My hands shook like an alcoholic in the morning, and somewhere coming back down the octave, I goofed, stopped, tried again, and goofed. After an awkward pause, I started over and goofed again, stopped and started over. At some point, I simply played what I knew and skipped the part I couldn’t remember. Since it had been a competition, and there were only two of us who made it to the regionals, I placed second. When I got home, I threw the award in the trash can. I never competed again.
My daughter’s fingers danced across the keys, her back straight and her head high. I closed my eyes and listened to the way Joplin meant the song to be played, and when it was over, I clapped loud and she smiled, bowed, and returned to her seat. We stopped for frozen yogurt afterwards, and when we were home, I told her I had a surprise for her. I sat at the piano, and I played “Ragtime: The Entertainer.” All the years that had passed didn’t matter, my memory and my ear were in sync, and I tickled those ivories. At the end, I stood, smiled, and bowed, and she gave me a hug.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Pulitzer nominated Drifting too far from the Shore, a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in eleven anthologies/collections and in over two hundred literary magazines all over the world including PIF, Drunk Monkeys, Spelk, Cheap Pop, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Slice of Life, Faircloth Review, With Painted Words, among many others. His new collection Reading the Coffee Grounds was just released.