“Alright Giselle. Start on the pickups to 144. We need to have this section finished by next week so you can start polishing more,” said my piano teacher, Matthew Cane. Standing at about five feet nine, he had a kind face and a kind attitude that attracted many students to learn under him. He was a slim man who joked around a lot and made you feel like a child of his - Unless of course, you were trying to learn a solo that got you into the National League of Music Players. Then he reminds you more of a strict biology teacher in college.
The NLMP is a group of people that have been studying music for years and they teach year round course classes at their headquarters in Texas. Every year for 10 weeks, they have famous musical artists from around the world guest-teach young aspiring musicians in a more advanced way than what they usually learn in the league, and if you are hand-chosen by a teacher, you get to stay there and learn for the remainder of the school year.
If you were wanting to get into it, then you had to work 10 times harder than the average musician. But I started playing when I was 2 and a half and music, more specifically piano, is my passion. The newest teacher for this upcoming school-semester was none other than Vito Adagio - The man that inspired my love for piano, and music in general. I made up my mind that I was getting into the school, along with my boyfriend Blake, who plays the piano as well, so we both found Matthew from word of mouth and started taking lessons from him.
My parents have sacrificed a lot, because even though Matthew is a kind teacher, his lessons are about 3 times more than a regular piano teacher. He’s also one of the best teachers in this region - We have to drive an hour and a half each way for a 2 hour lesson 3 times a week. But it’s worth it. We all think it is.
"Good Giselle. Keep in mind the accent marks between and 129 and 132. And your phrasing over all needs work. At measure 34, your tempo speeds up when it's not supposed to - Your rhythm is inconsistent. It's a good song, but you're getting comfortable with playing it and therefore, it's getting sloppy."
Anyone else would have told me it was a beautiful song and it was played beautifully. And it was. But Matthew has a trained ear for the slightest imperfection. And when he listened to one of Vito's videos, he couldn't find anything wrong with it. That's how good I want to be. So I have to practice more. I have to get better if I even stand a chance of getting into the league.
I started playing a somewhat contemporary piece about 7 months ago from an anime that a friend showed me called No Game No Life, or This Game, arranged by Animenz. The arrangement isn't that bad, but because I'm so used to stuff like this, I'm getting too comfortable and it's not coming out the way that it should. I have 5 more months until the audition for the league. It's plenty of time to polish, but I want to get this perfect so I'll spend every waking moment I can get to make it perfect.
"Please start again on the pickups to 144. The notes are getting really sloppy. You need to go home and just sit and play every note individually at a slow pace. Don't speed up until you hear every note clearly. That's the beauty of this piece; it's not just a fast moving song, it's the individual notes that you hear and you need to make those very obvious, otherwise, it's just going sound like a bunch of notes thrown in together."
I started playing again, thinking that sometimes his comments hurt, because I know that's not what the average ear hears. But I want to get better, so I have to take everything Matthew says in stride and practice. The only way to get better is to make mistakes and work on not making them again.
"Stop, the 16th notes are still sloppy."
Which is apparently what I'm not doing. I stop playing and sigh in frustration as he sits down next to me.
"Look. You're a beautifully talented player. You're by far my best student and I've only had you for about a year. I can see the drive and determination to get better in your eyes and I can hear it in every note you play. They're just not the most clean. But it's okay, we have 5 months to polish it and make it way better."
I nodded my head noncommittally and packed up my sheet music, feeling a little discouraged. It's been the same feedback from Matthew for the past 2 weeks and it's not changed, even though I've tried to make it better. I've just been practicing and practicing; until my fingers hurt and I can't see properly when I get up from the piano. It's all I've done for the past few months. It's starting to get a little tiring. I tell myself I'll never get as good as Vito if I don't though, because he practices 8 hours every day.
"You know that Blake takes a lesson right before you," Matthew asked, "right?"
"Maybe you guys could work together. Listen to each other play, give helpful constructive criticism. You both are wonderful players and I have no doubt that you can help each other grow."
Maybe he was right. Blake was a wonderful pianist. We just didn't really practice much. But I guess we should start, maybe it'll pull me out of this funk.
"OK sir, thank you for your time, I'll see you Monday."
"Goodbye Giselle, have a nice day."
I walked out of the studio door into the chilly March day, in Grand Rapids Michigan and just stood and breathed for a few moments. Clearing my head with the wonderful cool air, I walked down the steps and sat on them and waited for my dad to come and pick me up. He took a part time job in Grand Rapids as a busser at one of the fancy restaurants so he could make some extra money and be able to drop me off and pick me up from my lessons.
I had about a two hour wait, as I usually do, but I never complained. In fact, I love the cool air. I could sit out in it forever. I never get sick so I don't have to worry about catching a cold. I usually just sit and look up videos of Vito on Youtube on my phone as I watch the traffic go by, and I daydream about the day when I'll finally get to meet my inspiration.