My son recently performed in a piano festival. Each pianist played two memorized pieces that were evaluated by judges. A score of superior from each judge, double superior, meant that the performer was invited to play one of their pieces in a recital the following day and receive recognition and a trophy.
Now, this could be the humble brag post about how my son surprisingly received a double superior, but it is really the be your best you post that I need to write for myself to read later. So that is why I am writing it!
The festival took place on a Saturday with performance times beginning in the morning. A sister who also participated was in the 9:00 time slot. Son was in the 10:00 block. Participants were expected to be on time, stay for the entire hour listening to the other performers, and then check the postings on the wall in the hall to see if they received the coveted SS.
Mornings are challenging at our house on a good day, and there is never really one of those, so you can imagine what early Saturday performance mornings are like. Getting out of the house dressed and presentable was not a pretty sight or sound.
Son threw on some clothes, missed his coffee, iPod, and warmup on our piano, and jumped into the car with sister and me. There was much grumble-grousing. I was not in the most generous of moods and was lecturing on how we can’t all be in total comfort all of the time. There was really no other option than for us to all go together and boy to wait for his performance time. The use of my phone to pass the time softened the blow slightly.
I listened to nine-year-old sister play two memorized pieces almost perfectly and was impressed by her first festival performance. Based on past experience with siblings I was fairly confident that she might have pulled off a double superior. I said nothing but congratulated her at the end.
This is why I am not a piano judge.
At 10:00 it was brother’s turn, and I found him waiting in his performance venue. His skill level plays on the expensive upstairs piano in the auditorium. We sat together waiting for his turn. I could sense nervousness and heard negative self-talk coming from him and reminded him to just relax and do his best.
A fellow performer from the same studio went before him and played two complex pieces. The faster piece was filled with intricate-sounding runs up and down the keyboard. Son leaned over and said, I can’t do that! The dismissive shake of his head and shrug of the shoulders had me sensing even more of a downward spiral coming on, increasing the negative momentum, grinding him to a standstill before he had even started.
I leaned over to give him some motherly advice, and this is what came out. . .
You don’t have to play like the other performers. Just play like the best YOU in this moment.
Isn’t that true for all of us? I know it is for me.
I look around at my friends with their unique callings or their blogs with their voices and think I can’t do that. I can’t write about homeschooling or health or the benefits of _________. I haven’t designed a product or written a book or come up with a better way to __________. I haven’t gone back to school like _______. I don’t have that advanced degree like ___________. I’m not working from home in a job that I love like _________. I can’t sing like ___________. I am not a businesswoman like _________. I’m not as wise and spiritual as ____________.
I don’t have to do what other people are doing. I don’t have to compare myself to others. I just have to do what I do and be the best me in the moment.
Son heard his name, walked up onto the stage, and soldiered through his piece. I listened on the edge of my seat, slightly cringing at the areas where I heard him holding back due to nerves and lack of proper morning preparation. I coped in my classic way, through paper and pen in a tiny journal
“Mornings are never smooth at our house, so a Saturday morning with early piano performances at a piano festival seemed doomed from the beginning. Son’s score should really be interpreted through a baseline lens ~ meaning this is how he performs cold ~ no coffee, no warm-up, no sleep, cranky, and irritable. I am proud of him just for being here. It is hard to keep a 13 year old boy on track! It is hard to keep a 44 year old woman on track!”
He returned to his seat next to me, head shaking, hair flopping as he sat down. Whispered analysis of all that went wrong in the piece came my way, as the judges worked on his score at their table. I enjoyed the other performers, and then exited the hall to regroup with his teacher in a room downstairs.
Talking together, we debriefed on how the morning had gone, when a teenage boy sauntered up, face flushed, head shaking, eyes full of disbelief. What does it mean if your name is highlighted?
It means a double superior, answered his teacher. That is what my son received.
This is why I am not a piano judge.
The following afternoon found us in a different performance space enjoying the fruits of his labor, of him being the best him in the moment, as we listened to the honors recital together.
Whatever you are, Friend. Be the best YOU in the moment! Bring yourself to the world and step right up.