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The Day I Learned Humility


Raye McDonald

"This teacher only accepts a limited number of students. She is very tough and expects two hours of practice every day. You are very lucky to get an audience with her." I listened to my friend talk and her words made little impact on me. After all, I knew that my audition piece by the great jazz composer George Gershwin was impressive and that I could play it well enough to dazzle most anyone. And after all, I had been playing the piano for over thirty years!

The audition time was set for ten o'clock and when I arrived at the teacher's home at exactly that time, it was pouring down rain. I reached into the back seat of my car and grabbed my umbrella. Just as I opened it, my left thumb got caught in the handle and it pulled out a rather sizeable chunk of flesh. I found a tissue, wrapped it around the bleeding finger, grabbed my music and made a dash for the front porch. I rang the bell and waited.

Finally, she came to the door, and I was probably a pitiful sight to behold, standing there with a sagging umbrella and a bloody finger. She motioned for me to come inside and before I had a chance to introduce myself, she said, "You are exactly two and one half minutes late and you should never park at the front of this house. Put your things there." She motioned to a small chair sitting by the front door. I deposited everything but my music book and tried to let my eyes get used to the huge music studio that I was in. 

There were two grand pianos sitting side by side and a lighted floor lamp stood next to one of them. The entire back wall was glass and provided the room with natural light. "You can move your car when the rain subsides.  Please take a seat at that piano." She motioned to the one where the floor lamp was. "Is your piece memorized?"

"Yes, it is." 

I handed her my book and she took a seat across the room from the piano. My thumb was still bleeding, and I knew that I had to tell her about it. "I cut my thumb on my umbrella and it is still bleeding. Do you have a bandage?" She disappeared into another room and quickly came back with the dressing. I thanked her and hurriedly applied the bandage to my finger.

I looked back at her and saw her looking at my music. "Well, I see you are going to play a ragtime piece by Gershwin. You may begin when you are ready."

The moment that I played the first few notes of the music, I knew everything was going to be just fine. The keys were very loose and even with the sore thumb, I played the piece flawlessly. When I finished, I dropped my hands into my lap, confident that she would give me a huge compliment, or maybe even applaud. 

She was looking intently at the music and for at least five minutes, said nothing. My heart began to pound and my legs felt weak. And then, she slowly arose from her chair, walked across the room toward me, looked intently into my eyes and said,
"Yes, I can help you."

This is a true story. This master teacher revolutionized my playing ability and has had the most influence upon my musical life.

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