“Let’s practice this piece for another week,” I said to her.
She rolled her eyes looking exasperated. “Wasn’t I good enough?”
I took that to mean: to her, working on the piece for a week was long enough.
“There, there,” she pointed to the various areas of the score with her tiny fingers, the strings of notes.
“See, the first measure, the fifth measure, and, oh, yes, the 7th measure. I nailed them all.”
Yes, the syncopation of the last eighth note of the 7th measure tied over to the first beat of the 8th measure was, indeed, tricky one, I admit.
“Yes, you played the piece rather well,” I said.
“You read every note correctly. But I want you to practice until your staccatos sound like gentle raindrops. I want you to learn how to lift your arms instead of your fingers. Find ways to create musical sentences so that all the notes and rests will sound as if they belong to one another. In short, you haven’t finished the top button.”
She looked at me as if I was insane. A button? What is this person talking about? Weren’t we studying the piano? I didn’t sign up for sewing lessons!
I began to explain.
You see, a piano piece is like a doll’s clothes. First, you pick a pattern and fabric. You gather sewing tools. You cut the pattern into sections. For the jacket, for the skirt, and the hat. You make a pair of shoes out of soft felt for her delicate feet. You stitch the hem of the dress. You scallop the collar. Everything is coming along. It is almost done except…
You decide to call it finished before sewing the top button in front of her jacket. “It’s good enough,” you whisper to yourself. Because you are tired. You spent hours and hours on this project. Your fingers hurt. The doll is dressed up in a pretty red velvet dress and her feet look warm in the shoes. But the top of the jacket is not buttoned up. From the half-open jacket, her undershirt is showing.
You leave the doll unfinished. The poor doll sits on the top of your wardrobe without the top button. Without the first button, she looks incomplete, forlorn. She even has an expression on her face which can be taken as a melancholy smile. One side of her jacket flaps awkwardly every time you open the top drawer of the wardrobe.
You left the doll unfinished. It was..almost…done.
But “almost done” and “finished” are not the same thing.
I look into her deep amber eyes. I tell her,
“If you walk away from your piano piece now, it will be just like the doll who doesn’t get the top button.”
She stares at me for a moment. Then she says.
“I get it. You are asking me to be thorough, right?”
“Yes, my darling,” I said.
“Finish the piece. And you know, it has nothing to do with perfection. It means taking care of the doll. Sew the top button. Because you know how beautiful the doll is. You know she deserves it.”
From that day on, “Finish the button” became our secret code. A secret code of honor between a piano teacher and a bright little student.
Finish the top button. Show how much you love the doll.