I don’t want to boast or anything, but I’ve been told, and by people who know, by experts in the field, that I am one of the most average pianists they’ve ever heard. So it was no surprise when I received a formal invitation from my friend Janet to perform for a group of 3-year-olds at the local library.
I tend to avoid publicity, the media, that whole rock star thing as much as possible. But Mrs. Rotting Post said, “Oh you should do this!”
“Why should I do it?” I asked.
“It’ll be fun!”
“It doesn’t sound like fun.”
“Oh, you’ll like it. Plus think of everything Janet’s done for us!”
This last part got me. Janet has indeed been a good friend. And wasn’t I one of those modern male-type-people who liked kids – even, occasionally, ones who were not in my bloodline? Sure I was!
And so, in a state of semi-conscious temporary insanity, I consented.
Immediately, I sensed there were two serious problems: First, I was woefully out of practice at the piano. Second, I was woefully out-of-practice at 3-year-olds. What were they like? What if I couldn’t remember how to talk to them? What if I couldn’t remember how to play? What if I freaked out in the middle, and suddenly got up and ran away? WHAT HAD I AGREED TO?
In the next days I fretted over the program. Should I open with, “Mr. Golden Sun”? Or Chopin? The mid-program could be works by Ravel and Brahms. Or no. Maybe the Alphabet Song. But…would I have to sing it? What if I forgot the letters? There were 26 of them, supposedly. That’s a lot to remember!
Meanwhile, I scoured my brain, trying to recall anything I could about three-year-olds. But I kept coming up empty. They were very small. I was pretty sure of that. And fidgety. But what else? What language did they speak? I should remember to smile. And seem excited. But don’t overdo it! That would be creepy.
As the big day arrived, I found my anxiety building. I would mess up horribly. Some three year-old would send in a letter to the local paper:
While storytime at the Auburndale Library was good, I regret that I cannot say the same for the pianist, who was extremely disappointing. He stumbled through, ‘And Bingo Was His Name-O’ and his ‘Old MacDonald’ had no feeling whatever. Please do better in the future.” Or worse, the media would be there at my performance! I would be in the paper: ”Local Man Bombs At Library Concert. Kids Could Be Scarred For Life.”
And then, at last, it was time. I drove around looking for this library and was relieved when it seemed to not exist. I called Janet, hoping she would not answer, and I wouldn’t be able to perform because I couldn’t find the library or, even better, it was all a bad dream. Unfortunately, she guided me to the correct, “Auburn Street”.
Next I felt a sharp twang in my lower back. This was good! My back was out! I wouldn’t be able to play. I would spend a few days in bed, moaning in pain. What luck!
Tragically, the pain seemed fleeting. In a matter of a minute or two, it had fleeted. There was no avoiding it. I was doomed. While Janet read her story, I paced backstage, did a final mental run-through of my pieces, felt myself beginning to perspire. And then the kids came out. Circled around the piano. It turned out there were exactly five 3-year-olds. Apparently, my fame was just a hair behind, say, a Billy Joel. Or even a Raffi. Still, five terrifying 3-year-olds! Perhaps they could appoint a leader for me to communicate with.
“Who knows the Alphabet Song?” I asked, with a big, possibly too big, possibly creepy smile. They stared at me expressionlessly. I played. Janet sang. Mothers clapped hands. Kids twirled, spaced out and back in and back out again. I could do this! My interpretation of “Frere Jacques” was solid. And then I totally rocked the house with, “Mr Golden Sun”. It was true! I WAS a cool, kid-friendly male-type person. Now I just had to Get the Hell Out of There!
I finished with Satin Doll, by Duke Ellington. Granted, this piece has never made the 3-year-olds greatest hits list. But here’s the thing: If you play a wrong note in Mozart, it’s about as subtle as a fire-alarm. If you play a wrong note in Satin Doll, it can be easily smoothed over with a few tie-in notes, a brief melodic tangent that is the musical equivalent of, “I meant to do that”.
Which is pretty much how I felt about the whole experience. It was SO GREAT! I so meant to do that! I so cannot wait to do that again!