Kindergarten. My mom pulled out my kindergarten class songbook and I grabbed the reading pointer. Both items were made when I was in class; the songbook contained handwritten lyrics, and the pointer had a wooden star at the end, made golden by an excess of sparkles and Elmer’s glue. That day, we sang “You Are My Sunshine”. I took the lead, easily drawing the pointer across the familiar first stanza. Soon though it began to wobble, and my shooting star flickered and burnt out. Without pause, my mom leaned over and took my hand, singing louder and more brilliantly until we reached the end.
First grade. Middle C. As a child, that was my favorite note on the piano. Middle C connected the instrument’s deepest tones to its lightest airs. The letter “C” is the third letter of the alphabet—a solid prime number which reminded me of musketeers and the original Star Wars trilogy. When I practiced at home, I would use my right pointer finger to push the Middle C key for a full second. Then I’d pick it up, listen to the silence, and press again. When I got good at that, I went out of my comfort zone and used my thumb, middle, ring and even pinky finger to play the note as well. Each time I pushed down, I recited to myself, “Middle C, Middle C”.
Fourth grade. The first pop song I learned the lyrics to was Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi”. There was a blond girl named Sam in my after school program and it was her favorite song. I memorized all of the lyrics from listening to her singing, and home internet research. But Sam was a year older than me, and in elementary school that was a deal-breaker.
Fifth grade. One time, my piano teacher kicked me out of my lesson because she could tell that I hadn’t practiced. Another time, she took a picture of my feet wrapped around the legs of the piano stool and showed it to me. Practicing piano had become a chore and my mom and I fought about it almost daily. The first standoff I ever had with her was about practicing. She wanted me to play a piece perfectly three times before I could eat dinner. I don’t remember wanting to eat that night, only to stop playing. So I quit.
Summer before freshman year. I was practicing Rose Etude no. 10 for clarinet in my dad’s living room. From upstairs, my step-mom yelled at my dad to make me stop playing. And he listened.
Freshman year. Jeffrey and I were marching backwards during our halftime performance of “Phantom of the Opera”. During a difficult section, he forgot the notes and starting playing an audition piece. Instead of eighth notes of darkness that would pound horror and awe into the listener’s skull, a whimsical arpeggio flew out of Jeffrey’s clarinet. The clash of tempos and keys was only audible to me though, and I chipped my reed from laughing.
Senior year. Oliver and I took the stage for “Memories of You”. He sat down behind the piano, and I stood with my clarinet in front and to the left of him. The piece was a swing ballad—the type of song you imagine your grandparents slow-dancing to during a Doris Day movie. When it ended, I gave my bow, looked at the girl in the middle-left section of the audience, smiled, and returned to my seat. After the concert, she and I walked through Central Park. I was still in my tuxedo and she didn’t want to get it dirty from sitting down, so we strolled from West 72nd St. to the East Side. When we reached the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, I got a kiss.