I hope Tiffany still likes to jump in the mud
This issue's column features the writing of Tiffany Pon, piano student of my longtime friend and colleague, Mona Rejino. Mona teaches at the Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas, and Tiffany has been her student from the time she was six years old until she graduated this year. Mona is a well-known composer, arranger, and author of countless method books. She is also a consummate teacher.
Like most of us who teach, Mona rarely gets to realize the influence music study has had on her students' lives. In this case, though, Tiffany's college essay reveals the power of Mona's guidance as well as the depth of this young woman's insight into and involvement with her music. In late March, Mona sent Tiffany's essay to me saying:
"It took me completely by surprise, because Tiffany is rather reserved, even though she has studied piano with me since first grade. After reading her beautiful description of the power of music, I looked for and found an interview I did with Tiffany at her first-ever piano lesson. At the ripe old age of six, her favorite hobby was to color. Her favorite television show was 'Lizzie McGuire.' I asked her what she would choose to do if she had a whole day to do whatever she wished. Her answer was to 'jump in the mud.' As you will see when you read her essay, she has come a long way! This evolution reminded me of what a privilege we are blessed with in knowing these children year after year in such a unique situation."
I'm not the person whose every feeling is clear by the look on her face, whose heart is always exposed for everyone to see. I'm not the person who opens up easily, who tells her friends and family about her every worry and fear. But when I sit on the edge of the old cushioned bench and lift the heavy, black fallboard, I become that person.
With my right foot stretching for the pedal, I position my fingers on those squeaky clean keys, and the same exhilarating feeling that possessed me when I was five years old ignites all of the nerves in my body. With my arms relaxed yet firm and my back perfectly perpendicular to the ground, I play the first chord of Dmitri Kabalevsky's "Novelette," and I drift off, the song transporting me to Kabalevsky's conflict-ridden world in Russia during the Cold War. The beginning pulses are dreary, restrained, and lifeless. But with each measure, the piece becomes passionate and emotional, the dissonant, minor chords ringing in my ears, evoking the oppression and sadness of the era. I pour my heart and soul into each of them, using crescendos and diminuendos and strettos to insert my own teenage angst into a song composed fifty years ago. With my fingers flying across the keys, I reflect my anger for the past, my frustration for the present, and my fears for the future into the song's nuances, the weight of my arms pushing my fingers into the keys, highlighting the subtleties in the piece. I close my eyes, feeling every note of music and feeling every release of the pedal as a release of my own stress. With every downbeat chord becoming louder and louder and the discord intensifying, the tension builds up to the climactic release of an explosion of major chords, the only ones in the entire piece. But then the loudness subsides, overtaken by the dreary pulses and minor chords again. The notes grow softer and softer, the touch of my fingers becoming lighter and lighter, the song winding down into dissonant silence. My fingers linger on the keys for a moment after the piece has finished, my foot slowly releasing its hold on the pedal, and I open my eyes, returning to this world.
This is my sanctuary. This is the feeling that I search for every day, the feeling that I dream about. I dream of a place where I can express myself, where my fears and insecurities subside, and where I explode with passion and excitement. I dream of that moment when my emotions take hold of me and when I let every part of me run rampant: the quirks, the strengths, the weaknesses, and the determination. I dream of the inexplicable feeling of freedom I get from playing. Here, through the notes written by another, I can display my love for science, art, writing, or even Shonda Rhimes's TV shows and shopping. Here, I feel peace and contentment. Here, I am unrestrained.
Editor's note: Tiffany's essay and photo were collected as part of the What Music Means to Me project by Richard Rejino. For more information, please visit the project's website at http://slan-550-86.anhosting.com/~whatrej2/