I don't like competitions, and my kids, for the most part, avoid them. But I agreed with With-a-Why's piano teacher that playing the piano in front of judges might be a good experience for a child so shy. He would like getting a ribbon, and a competition would give him a deadline for learning some new songs. Besides, it's hard to say no to his teacher, who is one of the few adults that my painfully shy child will talk to.
The competition wouldn't take much time. Each kid gets a time slot, and he just has to show up, play his two songs in front of the judges, and then leave. The teacher gives him the judges' feedback and the ribbon at his next lesson, so the competitive aspect is low-key. Because it wasn't a recital, I figured there was no reason for With-a-Why to dress up, so we didn't even have to go through the usual last-minute crisis of wondering if his dress pants still fit him.
We ended up with a late-day time slot on the day of the piano competition. The judges were running behind, and the usually empty studio was filled with kids and parents. I was surprised at how dressed up the kids were. With-a-Why, with his black band shirt, black hoodie, and long hair hanging in his eyes, looked out-of-place amongst cleancut boys in crisp dress shirts and girls in fancy dresses. He was by far the shyest kid in the room, looking only at the floor as we waited for his turn. His dark, uncombed hair hid most of his face.
I admit I felt a pang of parental guilt. Should I have made him dress up? Or at least suggested that option to him? Maybe I should have combed his hair. Or made sure his shirt was clean. How come I never even think of these things?
Then I came to my senses. The judges were supposed to be paying attention to the music, not the clothing. I can't think that a dress shirt and tie would help a kid play the piano any better.
Through the glass wall, we could hear each kid play the piano when it was his turn. Some of the parents seemed nervous about the competition, and as I listened, I could hear why. I know almost nothing about music but even I know you aren't supposed to stop awkwardly in the middle of a song. Most of the songs the kids played seemed pretty simple, their fingers picking out some kind of melody, one note at a time. What's nice is that all the parents were quick to say supportive things to each child, no matter how badly he had played. Many of the kids gave big smiles and bows after their performances, and they seemed to be enjoying the whole thing, and I figured that was the most important thing.
When it was With-a-Why's turn, he walked in without even looking at the judges. Because I was shy myself at that age, I knew just how terrifying this next part would be. He said the name of his piece without looking up. The judges had to lean forward to hear his words. He answered a question or two – his name, his age, that sort of thing – and then walked over to the piano without even shaking the hair out of his face. Other parents gave me sympathetic looks. I breathed a sigh of relief. The difficult part was over.
Next came the easy part. With-a-Why sat down at the piano. As soon as his hands touched the keys, his entire posture changed. He seemed to forget the judges, whom he'd never looked at anyhow, or the parents staring through the glass wall. Gone was the shy child with the slouch. He was completely poised and confident as his hands moved rapidly across the keys. His fingers seemed to fly. As the music – a fast, complicated jazz piece – filled the room, the other parents looked over at me with surprise.
Yeah, he is shy and his mother doesn't know enough to make him dress up, but this kid can really play the piano.