A gray suit with high water dress pants stumbled out from behind the curtain as if he were pushed and then walked far too quickly towards the piano on the far right side of the stage. The young boy in the suit was no older than 6. He was short, round, and was wearing a pair of large glasses under a head of slicked-back hair. He never once looked at the audience.
When he arrived at the piano he hopped slightly and tossed a book of sheet music on the piano tray. Then he hesitated for a second as he pondered the bench in front of him. It came up to his belly button, the tip of his tight yellow tie, and it was obvious from his previous hop that he would never be able to get onto this seat gracefully. After several seconds he made a decision and he leaned down and laid the upper half of his body on the bench and pulled with his arms while kicking with his legs. He swam his way onto the piano bench. In the process, he grabbed several times at the piano itself for leverage and plunked a handful of keys, first bass notes, then mid-range, then, finally, with one last pull, he had made it to the high notes. He rolled onto his back and flailed to sit up, like a baby bird standing for the first time on the edge of his nest. A few children in the audience gasped as he nearly fell over backward, but they were quickly hushed by their mothers.
The boy adjusted himself atop the plateau and stared at the book of music. He reached out and moved the book three inches to the right. Then he fixed the cuffs of his suit and placed his fingers on the keys.
A moment or two later he reached out and pushed the music book again, this time to the left. Then he took a deep breath and tapped it back, yet again, to the right.
Just when it seemed like he would continue tapping his book back and forth for the rest of the evening, he stopped, stretched his arms, and began his song. Very carefully he pressed one of his fingers onto a key and it gave off a timid small whispering note. This was followed by the same finger pressing yet another key that sang out just as uncertainly. This continued, irregularly, cautious. It sounded as if the piano was doing everything it could to try to help the young boy, but it couldn’t figure out what he had planned. After thirty seconds of this, it became apparent, through the irregular rhythm and the missed keys, one excruciating note at a time, that the boy was playing “Come, All Ye Faithful”. Ten seconds later and he stopped mid-verse to wipe his hands off on his pants. Another ten seconds and he was finished. He had probably only played a total of 45 notes the entire time. Everyone in the room was on the edge of their seats for each of them. The last note ended abruptly as if it were a final toy being dropped in a toy box. The chore was over. You could almost feel the relief pass through him and radiate through the crowd.
He kicked his legs and dropped off the bench, barely scooping the songbook off the tray on his way down. Then he turned and ran, full speed, across the stage, arms full of sheet music, notes flying through the air behind him, the audience’s applause chasing him the whole way like a doting aunt that wanted nothing more than to pinch his pudgy cheeks. A pair of proud arms reached out to embrace him in the final second before he disappeared around the curtain.
I attend concerts because they bring out the humanity in music, and put a face to the emotions and the stories that are told in song. So, for me, this is the highlight of the live music experience. This boy in the grey suit and round glasses struggling to perform but not knowing how. Wanting to participate but being overwhelmed with the desire to be finished. No confidence. Diverting his eyes from everyone watching. Playing a simple ragged song of praise to God and His child born among broken men, and then running away as quickly as possible. And isn’t that life?