Thursday, December 4, 2014

                                                                     I. Kant    

     Once upon a time there was a little girl who wanted to play the piano. At the age of three, she would climb up on her Daddys knee, and he would hold her tiny hands over the keys and teach her simple little melodies. They began to play duets together, and the whole family would applaud. The little girls grandma would get teary-eyed watching her son and her grand-daughter perform together, and she would cry out More, More!

    When she was five years old, her Daddy decided she was old enough to begin formal piano lessons. He found a teacher at the local conservatory, and the little girl learned how to read music and hold her hands in the perfect position. At the end of her first year of lessons, a month before her 6th birthday, she climbed onto the stage to perform in front of all the piano students families. There were at least 100 people in the audience. The little girl was to play a duet with her teacher who coached her repeatedly, Whatever you do, do not stop. Keep going. So the little girl climbed up onto the leather bench, her chubby legs not reaching the floor, her new blue taffeta dress tickling her knees.  She placed her hands in perfect position on the keys and waited for the teachers nod to begin. Mrs. D. had long dark hair and wore a black evening gown. Her red lips under the spotlight of the twin grand piano were pursed tightly in preparation of their finale. She gave the little girl the nod, and they began. The little girl did not stop; she did as her teacher had preached. The only problem was the little girl started on the wrong notes, so she had played the entire piece a step below where it should have begun. Not knowing this, she slid off the leather bench, and took her bow, curtsied and walked off stage in her brand new black patent Mary Janes and ruffled socks. When the teacher called her out of the practice room where the students were waiting, she thought she was going to get a prize for being the best. Instead, her teacher said, Whats wrong with you? Dont you remember that you were supposed to start on middle C? The little girls heart raced in her tiny chest, and tears welled in her eyes. Her lips quivered, and the lump in her throat prevented her from speaking. We went over and over this, her teacher wailed. How will you ever learn to perform if you dont even start on the correct notes? You have completely disappointed and embarrassed me in front of all of my students families.

     When the little girl ran into her Daddys arms, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks, her Daddy swept her off her feet and carried her to the car. Her Mommy smoothed her hair and fluffed her dress while her Daddy comforted her. You made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Next time, you will not make the same mistakes. But you will try even harder to learn your piece just like your teacher wants you to. You are a brave little girl, and you will show everyone just how brave you are by doing better next time. I cant, she sobbed. I cant play the piano at all. I am stupid. No, you are not stupid, he said, holding her tiny hands in his own. You are human, and you are very little--way smaller than any of the other students. You will learn and you will be the best because you will not give up.

     Seven years and many successful recitals later, the little girl, now 12, began taking lessons from a highly-respected teacher in the city. She was apprehensive going to her first lesson. This teacher was short and stout with a warm smile. She invited her to sit down at the huge grand piano in her studio upon which sat a large photograph of a somber man. Now I would like to hear you play, she said. The girl was very nervous, as she knew this woman was an advanced level teacher, and the lessons were expensive. She knew that this was serious business, so she wanted to play the very best she knew how. Her fingers trembling, she took a deep breath and began to play. After finishing her first piece, a technically demanding composition by Mozart, the teacher said, That was very good, but there are some spots that need improvement. The fast passages are messy, and Mozart wants us to hear every single note. Can you play it faster and cleaner? The girl tried again, but the teacher stopped her. No, thats still messy. You are missing notes, and the tempo is uneven. I cant play it any faster, said the girl. Cant? exclaimed her teacher. Cant? There is no such thing as cant in this studio. You see this picture? Thats Immanuel Kant. He was a famous philosopher. I have his photo here to remind my students that Kant even though its spelled differently, is a negative term that is unacceptable. You WILL play faster and cleaner because you will learn here how to do that, and you will learn how to teach yourself that with hard work, there is nothing you CANT do. The young girl was stunned and speechless. Take the word cant out of your vocabulary in every situation, she went on,and you will not only be a successful musician, you will model the joy of possibility and success.

     Four years later, after the young girl had played the piano for school functions, taught piano at a music store, accompanied choral groups and played numerous times in her teachers recitals, she was ready for the ultimate performanceher own recital on a concert stage. This is going to require sacrifice and incredibly hard work, young lady, her teacher said. You wont be able to attend some of your social functions, boyfriends must come second, and you will need to practice at least four to five hours every day.The young girl swallowed and shook her head in agreement, wondering how she was going to fit in four or five hours a day with school work and household chores. She really wanted to perform at the end of her senior year, so she agreed. Lesson after lesson was full of reprimands and criticism of her lack of focused practice and her not being devoted to her performance. Often she would leave the studio in tears, but she would go home and practice even harder. When it was time for her Senior trip and Senior Prom, her teacher said, “You don’t have time for such trivial things. Will you feel proud looking back on a stellar performance on the Art Institute stage or a frilly dress and a corsage? You decide. This is serious business. If you’re going to do this, you need to sacrifice. That’s what it will take. No Senior trip was painful, but Senior Prom, she would not give up. When she got to the studio, her teacher screamed at the sun burn she got from going to the beach with her friends the day after the prom. “What were you thinking? How is that red skin going to look in your formal? Have you made up the practice hours you lost lying on a beach burning your body?” The young girl held her tongue, and once again, returned home to lose herself in her practice. That week and the weeks following, she spent at least five hours a day at the keyboard. The program was coming together, but her teacher kept criticizing and reprimanding her for a lack of focus and discipline.The photo on the piano of Immanual Kant seemed to dare her to quit, but she didn’t.

     The evening of her recital arrived, and she took the stage with confidence. Smiling at the audience, she sat down at the piano and delivered the best performance of her twelve year career. The audience stood and cheered, and her best friend brought a big bouquet of roses to her. The feeling she had that night was indescribable. She had worked so hard, sacrificed so much, and it was worth every second at the keyboard.

     She walked up to her teacher at the end, hugged her tightly and looked her in the eye. She said, Thank you for encouraging me, pushing me, challenging me. I never thought I could do it, and I did. You have shown me what it takes to be a devoted, focused musician. I had no idea, and Ive learned so much. I took the word cant out of my vocabulary, and I now realize that I can do whatever it is I set my mind to. So I have decided to quit. "What? You cant quit. You absolutely cant. Look how far youve come, her teacher cried. Cant doesnt exist. You taught me that, and yes, yes, I can.

                                                                Immanuel Kant