Why I Will Never Play Carnegie Hall, or, The Day the Music Died

I started piano lessons in fourth grade.  After the first two lessons, I had visions of appearing before huge crowds brought to their feet, screaming “Bravo” and moved to tears by the brilliance of my artistry.

My teacher was Mr. Thomas, a kind, pear-shaped man who gave lessons in his home.  He had a wonderful grand piano, a plain wife and two homely children.  I could often smell dinner cooking during my lesson.

I raced through all those colorful “John Thompson” piano course books. But I discovered two things about myself that would stomp all over my dreams of a classical career: I hated to practice, and I had stage fright. Not ordinary stage fright. I’m talking no eating or sleeping for a week before a recital; puking and diarrhea on the day of, and mind-numbing terror as I waited my turn like a person next in line for the guillotine.

It was public recitals, the Moonlight Sonata,and my first pair of high heel shoes that brought my dreams of stardom to a screeching and mortifying collapse.

I was an eighth-grader and one of Mr.Thomas’ advanced students. I had chosen Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” for my recital piece.  Beethoven was one of the first composers to make use of pedals in his piano compositions, and the pedal was vital to the emotional, haunting feel of the piece.  So there was that.

I got a new dress for the event. Best of all, I got my first pair of heels. They were only an inch-and-a-half high, but they might as well have been stilts. The circus was on its way.

I sat waiting my turn, so frightened. Then Mr. Thomas stood and introduced me. He sat down, looking proud. I wobbled my way to the piano bench, took a deep breath, and began to play. It was fine for the first ten seconds, and then my calf and my foot on the pedal went into a spasm, caused by the unusual angle the heels had created.

No more sustenado pedal. The “Moonlight Sonata” turned into chopsticks, Mr. Thomas appeared to be having a heart attack, and my mortification was indescribable. I did finish the piece to sparse applause.

So that’s the reason you will never hear me at Carnegie Hall. And the fact that my skill set was clearly somewhere else.

6 thoughts on “Why I Will Never Play Carnegie Hall, or, The Day the Music Died

  1. Have you read the book Quiet, by Susan Cain? All about introverts, and things like crippling stage fright. Wonderful, restorative book. And I think we all recognize ourselves in it a little.

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