Piano Lessons (Blog Novel Episode #3)

Jul 10, 2009

(Continued from here) After catching Mr. Watkins playing the cymbals in his daydream performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony in the band room at Hillcrest School, Lenny Campbell had wanted to run straight to the home of his friend Jimmy Krank, to tell him what he had seen. Instead, since it was Thursday, he had to go straight from school to his piano lessons.  Three years earlier, Lenny's mother had insisted he take lessons.  "You need to be well rounded," she had told him.  "But I don't want to be well rounded," he had replied.  "Yes, you do," said Mrs. Campbell.  "You need culture."  And that had ended the discussion. So that Thursday afternoon, like every Thursday afternoon, Lenny ran to the home of his piano teacher, Mrs. Studebaker.  Lenny trudged his way up the steep hill to Mrs. Studebaker's house, a brick monolith of a bygone era with lots of gables poking into the sky like witches' hats.  He clunked up five wooden stairs and across the wooden planks of Mrs. Studebaker's porch, pushed open the enormous dark wooden front door, and took a seat in one of three high-backed chairs with frilly seat cushions lining the narrow entryway. Music notes--a passage from Beethoven's Fuer Elise--emanated from the parlor across the entryway, then stopped.  For a moment all was quiet.  Then the same passage resumed, and again stopped.  Lenny recognized the music from his own lesson from the previous week and just then realized he hadn't practiced the piece since.  The parlor door slid open.  Out walked a young girl, the student he had heard, eyes downcast and forlorn, clutching a slender pile of music books. "And don't forget to practice your scales, Lydia," called Mrs. Studebaker as Lydia made her way toward the front door.  Lydia looked over her shoulder, nodded, and left the house in mournful silence. Mrs. Studebaker looked at Lenny, her upswept hair elongating her towering figure.  'Well, hello there, Lenny.  And how are we today?" Lenny stood up.  "Fine, thank you."  He passed slowly into the parlor and across the faded Oriental rug, bracing himself for the thud of the parlor door sliding closed.  Mrs. Studebaker sat down in her usual chair, a Victorian armchair upholstered in fraying pink velvet.  Lenny took his place at the piano.  He sat quietly, staring at the keys. "Lenny?"  Mrs. Studebaker asked.  "Are you ready to start?" Lenny turned his head and nodded at Mrs. Studebaker. "Okay, then," she said.  "Let's start with the Beethoven we started last week." Lenny again gazed at the keyboard, wondering why he hadn't practiced the Beethoven, even though he knew Mrs. Studebacker would ask him to play it; wondering why his mother insisted he take piano lessons; wondering what kind of fun Jimmy Krank was having while he suffered this torture; wondering why he wasn't doing all the other things he'd rather do than be in this piano lesson. "Lenny?"  Mrs. Studebaker tried again.  "Are you okay?"  She stood up from her chair and stepped gingerly toward the piano. Lenny nodded and opened his music book to Fuer Elise.  He looked carefully at the notes in the first measure and with his fingers found the corresponding keys on the keyboard.  He started the piece once, twice, a third time.  Mrs. Studebaker leaned down toward the keyboard. "Okay, Lenny.  Why don't you try it like this?"  The spidery fingers of her right hand inched slowly along the keys, bringing the famous first measure of Beethoven's bagatelle to life.  She played the figure again, and again. Lenny tried to make his fingers move the same way over the keys, then stopped.  He looked at Mrs. Studebaker. "Can I see it again?"  he asked. She waited a moment before responding.  "You didn't practice much this week, did you Lenny?" Lenny looked down at the keys, then back up at Mrs. Studebaker. "Okay, here it is again."  Mrs. Studebaker placed her right hand again on the keys and slowly began to play.  Just then, while she played, Lenny had an idea, a way, he thought, to get out of piano lessons forever.  As he watched Mrs. Studebaker's hand stroke the keys, Lenny grabbed the piano's keyboard cover with his tiny left hand and, with a single decisive motion, pulled it swiftly down onto his teacher's fingers. (Continue to part 4)