When my sister and I were four and six, my grandmother determined that her granddaughters needed to know the finer things in life, such as music and art. Against the wishes of my proud mother, she bought us an ancient, water-stained, splintering Weber spinet that twanged out of tune to rival a Southern Belle’s lament. A young hippie from next door gave my sister and me our first lessons. In all honesty, Melanie had only a basic grasp on piano herself, and after two years of teaching us to plunk through “Moonlight Sonata” and other pieces beyond our abilities, she moved away as young hippies often do. Perhaps it was sweet revenge for my mother, but within weeks of Melanie’s departure we were taking lessons from Mrs. Tisch.
Carol Tisch, a physically fragile, diminutive older woman, outwardly refined and bullheaded, drove to our cabin in the woods once a week come snow or ice. Mrs. Tisch might be described as a gentler, softer version of my dear grandmother when she admonished me to keep practicing, but was no less determined when she brushed off my incessant chimes of “Too hard, too hard, too hard.” Mrs. Tisch never said nor heard can’t; the verb was virtually absent from the darling woman’s lexicon. Still, she never hesitated to despair upon my atrocious piano-playing. My fingers lay parallel with the keys and my wrists were in perfect rhythm with the piece; I couldn’t count to save my life and had never seen the book of Hanon.
“This is the piano player’s bible,” she said as she bestowed into my eight-year old hands a rather large book of finger exercises and scales, “It will take you far.” The scores of notes intimidated me and, with a stubborn lack of motivation, I was eleven by the time I mastered the C major scale.
Five years after the Weber’s arrival, in a new home down from the mountain and in town, my mother bought the mahogany Yamaha. She herself can’t play Chopsticks, but how she loves that piano. It shines, resonates, sans water stains. My Hanon-trained fingers float along the keys. I will never forget the recital when, after a decade of tedious finger exercises and exasperating finger slips, Mrs. Tisch confided to me that I had played Debussy’s Claire de Lune like an artist.
Twelve years of piano, ten with the venerable Mrs. Tisch, taught me how persistent hard work and passion will transcend natural talents to unbelievable heights. This tiny woman’s expertise, relentless guidance, and refusal to let me quit halfway inspired me to lift my wrists, keep count, and do the best work I can at anything I put my mind to. I believe in the impossible; the daunting, daring tasks that seem off limits until accomplished. Everyone in this world encounters obstacles and everyone does their best to overcome them; we strive for the impossible to become ordinary.