Piano Exam (creative writing)
I fidget at the edge of my seat in the damp church basement, the makeshift waiting room for the Royal Conservatory of Music piano examinations. My dress is dapper, finely groomed, in a spick-and-span shirt, pressed khaki pants, shiny polished shoes, and topped with a classy argyle-patterned tie. I feel juxtaposed against the monotonous feel of this waiting room. A frail, likely retired, receptionist scribbles on a small notepad on her desk, greeting students as they enter. She wears thin-framed glasses connected with a silver chain around the back of her neck, and is engrossed in her paperwork. Above her desk, a wall clock meticulously ticks every second breaking the silence of the room. The time between each tick on the clock seems like minutes, rather than seconds. Soon, sweat starts beading on my forehead, and my hands begin to feel clammy. My fingers tightly clench my knees, and my legs frantically move up and down like a sewing machine. I know that I need to calm down.
I imagine myself back in the comforts of my own home, sitting in front of my own piano. In my head, I scrupulously read through the music as if I were practicing, beat by beat, bar by bar, note by note. My my fingers understand precisely where to go because the repertoire has become instinct. I know exactly how each key feels and understand how it responds to my touch. I know how to play my piano in such a way that the hammer hits the strings precisely, allowing it to resonate a delicate sound. I settle down. The thought of my own piano gives me comfort, my heart stops racing, and my mind clears.
Reflecting upon my musical journey, I vividly remembered my first piano lesson. I was only six when I jumped up on the piano bench and dangled my legs over the edge to where my feet could almost touch the pedal. My arms barely spanned the length of the keyboard, and I felt dwarfed by both the piano itself and the tremendous task I was undertaking. I recalled the soft, encouraging tone of my piano teacher's voice. I recalled the mounds of sheet music cluttering shelves in such a way that one could not see the underlying colour of the shelf. I recalled the first time I touched her antique piano, faded-black in colour, and with paint chipping off the sides. It had been inherited generation after generation, its ivory keys yellowing over time, and roughening as they lost their lustre. However, the decrepit, aged appearance of the instrument contrasted a finely-tuned sound that filled both the room and my young heart with warmth and harmony.
For as long as I can remember, my early morning routine commenced with piano practice: Compromising precious sleep in the warmth and comfort of my bed for the cold, hard piano bench. Barely awake, my hands cramped and my arms struggled to support themselves above the notes. The operose task I dreaded most was flicking the switch on the metronome. It’s regular clicking back and forth was an aggravating sound. My mornings were composed of black and white keys pressed in accordance with the black dots on a white page as I began to practise. Somehow these arduous and monochromatic practices filled my mornings with colour opening my mind and energizing me to start the day. These years of practice would now come down to the next twenty-two minutes. Suddenly, my mother taps me on the shoulder. Startled by the touch, I shudder to know what is coming - it is my turn.
The piano exam itself is hosted on the main floor of the church. Upon hearing the shrewd call of my name, I slide out from the edge of my seat, progressing up from the basement. My shirt brushes against the side of the narrow corridor, causing me to clumsily trip up the uneven steps, and emerge onto the main floor. Unlike the basement, the sanctuary is lavishly decorated. Beams of light gleam through the stained-glass windows, creating a mosaic of colours on the hardwood floor. A Crucifix is centred precisely on the altar. If the Holy Spirit was going to move me, now would be an opportune moment!
Carefully placing each footstep, I meet the examiner, who greets me with a firm handshake. He appears friendly, but serious, and promptly directs me towards the piano positioned on the other side of the room. My footsteps echo as I walk, and the floorboards creak underneath my hard-soled shoes. I take a deep breath before sitting down, and attempt to familiarize myself with the grand piano; it is much different from my one at home. I admire the craftsmanship, both inside and out. The jet black wood of the piano seamlessly wraps and curves around the tightly stretched strings on the inside. The black exterior is contrasted with the naked wood and bright metallic internals. Two hundred thirty strings stretch the span of the instrument, effortlessly bearing the burden of the high-tension. One can only admire the strength, intricacy, and precision in such an instrument. It is said that beauty is not skin-deep but extends throughout the inside as well. This piano is no exception.
Once again, I feel dwarfed by the instrument once again noticing my sweaty palms clenching each thigh. Nervously, I peer at the examiner who is now astutely sitting behind a large, wooden desk. A tall glass of water and bowl of colourful candy camouflage a selection of ballpoint pens. He rips out a piece of paper from his leather briefcase from the floor beside him, then glances up. Staring directly into my eyes, he nods his head, and asks me to begin.
I take a deep breath, adjust my position on the red velvet piano bench, ready my foot on the pedal, and steadily position my fingers on the keys, performing my first piece. Each piece has its own character, and I try to incorporate some of my own as well. I pour my soul into the music, passionately delivering the sounds of mystery, defiance, and love.
Twenty-two minutes later, it is all over. I shake the examiner’s hand and exit the church. I just summited a mountain that took ten years to climb, all leading up to today’s event. Reflecting back on the challenging obstacles I faced, countless hours of early mornings practises, the black and white keys now represent a sea of success. Not only had I written my Grade Eight piano exam, I had also learned ruthless dedication and persistence.
Veni, vidi, vici.
I anxiously await my results checking my email constantly in hopes that maybe, just maybe, my results have been posted. Days go by, then weeks, though no results were posted. Six months later, I hear the all too familiar ding of my iPod letting me know that there is a new email. This time it is not Groupon nor a friend, it is the Royal Conservatory of Music. My family gathered around the small screen as I anxiously check my results.
I passed my Grade Eight piano exam with first-class honours.
View my piano certificates and discover my musical background.
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