Friday, 10 June 2011

ONE CHILD'S VIEW OF PERFORMING.

When I received my first piano lesson in the autumn of 1964, I had no idea I'd be performing on a stage the following june. The administrators of the blind school I attended expected this of all their students, no matter how talented or untalented they were. In Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School), I wrote about my musical debut.

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June seemed filled with activities. Jericho held its annual piano recital near the end of the month. Mrs. McMaster coached us on where in the program we would appear. I felt intimidated as she spoke since I disliked being on stage and worrying about making mistakes.

Our music teacher held a rehearsal in the music classroom on the day of the recital. I almost missed my part in the proceedings. During recess, I had so much fun playing in the sunlit forest that I lost track of time.

"I'm sorry I'm late," I said as I found a chair.

"It's alright. Your turn hasn't come yet," she reassured. I sat amazed as the other students took their turns playing the piano. I thought I would be in big trouble but our music teacher spoke kindly to me.

The officials held the main recital in the deaf students' auditorium that evening. Their classrooms and dorms were housed in an H-shaped structure, similar to ours, a few hundred metres past the gymnasium. Usually we never interacted with those children. Apart from staying in the infirmary, which was upstairs from the deaf boys' and girls' residences, and exploring the mainly-empty basement, I had not been in the rest of that building.

Mrs. McMaster called my name when my turn came. I walked nervously onto the stage and sat at the piano. "Well?" she coaxed when I hesitated, "play your piece."

I made a few mistakes as I played but I finished the tune. Some children became too nervous and quit halfway through. Being on stage for the first time was not as frightening as I imagined. I pitied the audience, though. One blind girl, after nine months, could only play that simplistic middle C tune which I easily mastered the previous September. It seemed pathetic to me that she made no progress after all that time. I learned later that she was mentally challenged. Regrettably, my opinion of her did not change until I grew up.

We finally went to sleep after ten o'clock, the usual bedtime rule being waved for that occasion. I felt relieved that the event was finally over and that I no longer needed to practice my piece.

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Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Click here to read more about this book and to order it. You may also e-mail me directly if the comment form doesn't work.