by Allison Prinsen

I wait nervously in the pew. I watch as the first student goes up, feet dangling from the piano bench. He plucks the first few keys quarter, quarter, half–note, quarter, quarter half–note. A finger stumbles over a key and two keys go down at once, mistakes are forgiven and he carries on. The audience smiles at his imperfections and claps when he finishes. He stiffly bows, uncomfortable, yet pleased and returns to his seat in the front pew.

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I wring my hands again. They can’t be cold, but they can’t be sweaty either. I can’t risk a slip.

 One after one the students play, preludes and minuets. They zigzag up the rows, pieces slowly increasing in difficulty and technique. I wait. I don’t want it to be over and yet I want to be finished.

 I picture the keys. Wait what key is it in? What is my first position?

It’s ok… breathe… sing it in your head. You know it, let it wash over you… sing it.

Don’t imagine the keys just the notes.

 It’s my turn. I stand up tall in my cotton dress sticking just slightly to my thighs from sitting. I adjust and smooth and slowly walk to the stage. Eyes watching as I approach the bench. I sit down, find the pedals and adjust the bench. I take a breath and place my fingers on the keys.

 I know my left hand will cross my right almost immediately. Don’t go there yet! Just the first bar, that’s what we talked about. Just get through the first bar. I look over at my teacher she smiles and nods. She’s with me, she knows my fear, this isn’t the first time. Not the first time!!! Ugh that feeling washes over me. I wonder what the audience is thinking? Are they wondering if I will do it again this year? My teacher again smiles at me, confident I will get it even if it’s not the first time. But I love this piece, the first of the Romantics to speak to me. I breathed this piece.

 Again I look at the keys, a collection of white and black, shapes that have risen to greet me, and shapes that have betrayed me in the past.  I breathe again and begin.

The wrong collection of notes spills out. I stop. Ahh!, how did this happen? I have to try again. Every cell in my body vibrates as I try to find a way to start again. We prepared for this moment, but still I want to throw up.

 I place my hands on the keys trying to keep them from shaking and this time I remember the dance. It is the dance that I have practiced not the notes. This time they come pouring out of me, fast, loud, furious at times. The keys felt like a blur below me but my fingers kept moving. I was approaching the end, still time to screw it up. Don’t go there… stay focused. I reach the end. I hold the pedal just long enough and as my foot releases, the sound vanishes.

 I stand up, smile and bow. The recital is over now, time for tea and cookies.

 I walk back to my seat. I pass my parents and my teacher smiling at me, perhaps because I had played well, perhaps because I persevered. Even still, the old familiar feeling rose up, it gathered in my gut and collected behind my eyes.

 I wish I had done it better.

Allison Prinsen first came to Callanish as a participant and has been a facilitator of our Younger Adult support group for many years. She is a board member and recently joined our team as our Creative Arts Director and counsellor.