But this post is not about how awesome of a clarinetist I was (and how I once won a trophy for being the most talented band student out of 176), because my mom has taught piano for as long as I can remember, and though I never had structured lessons from her (my choice, not hers) I was always a part of the semi-annual recitals she put on to give her students experience performing. And THAT’S where the good stories are.
My life as a mediocre pianist has been filled with happy hours of self-teaching and playing by ear, punctuated by panic-stricken performances at these recitals, which I would stress over for weeks FOR NO GOOD REASON because it seemed that no matter how hard I practiced, my nerves would just foul things up anyway.
One year Corinne and I ended up with a duet called “When the Saints Go Rockin’ In”, a brainless little tune even worse than its terrible title suggests, each line concluded by a few jazzy chords. If you were to sing along, the words would go something like, “Oh when the saintsBA-DA BA, BA, BA! Go
Then along came Ianni, my mom’s prized pupil. He was destined to be great, considering his name shared the same pronunciation as one Yanni Hrysomallis.
Ianni eventually advanced so far in his musical career that my mom had to, with a heavy heart, make the ultimate sacrifice and pass him off to a more skilled instructor. But before it came to that, there was a recital he had to perform in, and not just any old recital, either. A duet recital. As a distant second in musical ability among the group, I was tasked with performing with the Golden Child. My mom dug up some showy number called Valencia, assigned me the slightly easier part (primo), and I practiced until my fingers bled. Not really. But still. Messing up “While the Saints Go Rockin’ In” would be nothing compared to embarrassing the King of Keys in front of his parents, so I practiced. Though the nerves didn’t completely set in until I showed up at the chapel for the recital to discover half the pews full of Ianni’s family and friends. And THEN, oh my gosh, the terror - I saw his father setting up a video camera on a tripod just a couple of feet away from the piano bench. My mom saw my face and explained that she had permitted it so that the remainder of Ianni’s extended family (in Italy, I presume) could admire his greatness. But miracle of miracles, I don’t think I screwed the performance up too badly. At least I don’t remember trying to discreetly slide off the bench mid-performance and roll for the door, which I’m sure I would have done had it gone horrifically awry.
This post doesn’t have a happy ending, though, because I tried to repeat the success several years later with my mom at a family talent show, and oh dear. The entire thing was a disaster, and what was supposed to be the grand finale of an emotional showpiece was reduced to an unfortunate, loud, plodding repetition of “PLINK-UH-DINK-UH-PLINK-UH” while I struggled to make my fingers cooperate.
......I sat as First Chair clarinet for four consecutive years.