Music to my Ears

God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.

-Mark Batterson, Wild Goose Chase

Eighteen years ago, God called me out of my elementary school classroom and into my very own piano studio. Though I had no idea what I was doing, or how to do it, I saddled up that Wild Goose and hopped on for the ride of my life. Very green and at times very overwhelmed, sometimes fumbling along and sometimes knocking it out of the park, I forged my way into a path that I could never have predicted would be laid out for me.

As with any choice, there were those who mocked me. Those who said I wasn’t qualified and not very good. Those who looked down their noses and held me at arms’ length and lamented the fact that “Wal-Mart teachers” like me were undermining the profession, muddying the waters, and diluting the pedagogical excellence that piano study requires.

But God continued to affirm and reaffirm His plan for Piano by DESign, and by faith I continued to follow. And what happened today was not just an affirmation but a great big bear hug of reassurance and pride from my Abba, my Daddy.

Cue backstory swoosh.

Several years ago, I started teaching a delightful young woman. Her mother had been teaching her for a few years, covering the basics and teaching her the fundamentals of music theory and piano performance. She was a piano teacher’s dream: that perfect blend of love for music coupled with solid discipline to practice and a cheerful attitude at lessons. For four or five years, I worked to nurture that love, that passion, while offering corrective steps in artistry and skill. She quickly progressed out of the methods I was most familiar with and offered a professional challenge as I sought just the right materials to use with her, finally settling on a combination of classical repertoire and lyrical sacred music.

At some point, however, I recognized the need for her to “graduate” from my program into one that could better equip her to reach her goals and fulfill her dreams of studying piano in college. After honestly and openly discussing this with her parents, I encouraged them to begin the process of selecting a new teacher and assured them of my commitment to doing my best to prepare her for the transfer. But I wondered, would I be considered one of those “Wal-Mart teachers” by her new instructor? Was I equipped enough to adequately equip her?

End backstory swoosh.

And then came the invitation to attend her Senior Recital. Beyond the enjoyment of the music, beyond the honor of being remembered and included in this momentous event, I was especially excited to meet this teacher about whom I’d heard so many good things. To be honest, I was a little nervous, too.

As expected, I didn’t have the opportunity to introduce myself to the teacher before the recital. Knowing she was busy with last-minute preparations and instructions to her student as well as welcoming all the guests and ensuring their comfort, and trying not to be intimdated by the fact that she had TWO GRAND PIANOS in her formal dining room/studio, I chose a seat toward the back and quietly perused the program. One song in particular stood out. It was a song that she had worked on with me, but never was able to finish. She would be performing this song, by the same arranger, but as a duet. I wondered in the back of my mind if she’d remember the time we spent on it.

The performance began, and it was everything I had hoped for: beautiful melodies, played with emotion and confidence, filled with artistic touches and subtle nuances that expressed the joy and pleasure she obviously received from playing. As she played “the song”, I found my eyes growing a bit misty as I heard the melody – those same notes, those same rhythms, the same expression I had taught her – fleshed out flawlessly, beautifully timed between four hands.

When the recital drew to a close nearly an hour later, I could hardly wait to congratulate both this student and her teacher for an amazing performance. It was obvious my decision to refer her to another teacher had been the right one. The pride her teacher demonstrated, as well as the obviously close bond they had developed, confirmed in my heart that yes, this had been a good thing for my student – the best thing I could have done for her. Seeing her so happy, so accomplished, so composed (no pun intended) made me happy…despite the small tug of disappointment that I had not been able to provide this for her.

As the applause died down, something strange happened. Her teacher looked at her, nodded, smiled, and leaned over and whispered something in her ear. Then she began to chant “Encore! Encore!” When her student looked at her, she said, “Go ahead, play it.” And then the teacher stood up and addressed the crowd:

This student is going to close the recital with one more special piece. I have only been able to do what I’ve done with her because of the excellent foundation she received from her first teacher. She came to me with excellent habits and skill, and because of that I have been able to prepare her for her college auditions. So she has a special song that she would like to play to conclude her recital, and this song is dedicated to her first teacher.

And she looked directly at me – somehow she knew, maybe it was the tears flooding my eyes, maybe her parents had pointed her out to me – and smiled.  Thank you, she said. As murmurs of acknowledgement and appreciation spread throughout the room, and all eyes turned to seek me out, those tears leaked out and spilled onto my lap, one after the other.

She pulled out the music, and my breath caught in my throat.

fjh2004I gave her that book as a birthday gift. She played nearly all the songs in it. We spent hours learning the songs and enjoying them together. My bottom lip quivered as the tears continued to spill out.

And then, she opened it…and I saw the title. A Whole New World from the movie Aladdin. The piece she played at her final Piano by DESign recital. There was my sticker in the top corner. There was my handwriting, telling her to use “more arm weight” here or “slow down” there or “GROW LOUDER!” across these measures. There was my highlighting, my circled notes and finger numbers. There was no holding back. Yep, I ugly cried right there. In the back row, surrounded by complete strangers. Overwhelmed by the incredible tribute, this homage, this nod of respect…to me. A “Wal-Mart” teacher. A nobody. And here in this place, deemed not simply good enough…but very good.

When the song ended, I threw protocol and etiquette to the wind and rushed forward to give this precious young woman a giant hug. With tears still fresh on my face, I thanked her profusely and told her how proud I was of her. As the final recognitions were given I composed myself as best I could (thank God for waterproof mascara). When all had been said and done, I was finally able to introduce myself to her teacher.

Thank you was all I could manage to say. Her teacher had more words for me. “You are a good teacher. I couldn’t have done this – all this – without you doing what you did first. Thank you. You keep doing what you’re doing. You are a very good teacher.


Just wow.

Favor. Undeserved. Unsolicited. Unexpected. But also affirming…assuring.

I know this day wasn’t supposed to be about me…but somehow it was. It was about reminding me of God’s purpose and plan for my life. It was about strengthening my commitment to do what He’s called me to do…not in my own understanding or power but in His. It was about continuing to Follow the Leader no matter where His path takes me.

You keep doing what you’re doing. Yes, Lord. Thank you for Your reaffirmation. Your words are music to my ears.