This week, I visited my alma mater with my oldest daughter, for a Red Carpet Day.
I’ve written before about how odd it feels to walk the environs of a campus you last lived on thirty years ago. It inspires all types of reflections, on how you thought life would turn out, and how it actually did, and about people you hadn’t thought of for years.
One of my thoughts: my hugest memories of my college years have nothing to do with the major I ended up with.
My reverie began as we walked past this building. It was built during my years on campus. It’s a music practice building: basically full of cubicle-sized rooms, most (well, at least the ones I frequented) with just a piano.
There was a paper posted outside each room, and you could sign up for a time to use the room. I did this frequently, sometimes to practice music for the lesson of a student whose lessons I accompanied, and sometimes just for the enjoyment of playing. It was a great stress-reliever and way to escape the never-ending studying, or to find a bit of sorely-needed solitude. For an introvert, living in a dorm full of people was often a bigger challenge than classwork.
Later in the day, I walked past the music school with my Dad. My memories of this place aren’t confined to my college years. My piano teacher had us compete in Federation contest here each year, and to this day, walking into this building gives me a stomachache. But … I felt compelled to peek inside, once again … I told Dad to take a few minutes sitting on a stone ledge, which he didn’t mind.
Come on …
LET’S GO IN!!
First thing I noticed was a bulletin board, and on that board, a homemade sign advertising an accompanist. More memories: I made several of those signs (granted, using a typewriter), and posted them in the music school. Much of my college financing came through my earnings as a piano accompanist for IU voice students. I may have spent more hours in the music school, playing piano, than I did in my own classes. Yet I didn’t even minor in music. I enrolled in a single music class, one semester of piano. Having a stereotypically “intense” Asian grad student instructor cured me of any desire to continue those.
But oh, the experiences I garnered accompanying at IU. I learned to sightread quite well, in genres ranging from Broadway to classical — a skill that still is valuable to me. I played for all kinds of lessons, from the business major taking voice with a grad student as an elective to the music major, studying with Mr. or Ms. big-name professor with the lounge-like studio boasting opera posters starring themselves, performed all over Europe. It was kind of like traveling without a passport. Often those instructors were crazy-eccentric (as I suppose great talents often are). Once, the instructor didn’t care for my style of playing, and instructed me to peel him an apple while HE played for “the boy.” Ohhhh-kay, then.
Just inside the entrance, the lowly doors to Recital Hall. They don’t look like much, but through these doors lies the venerable hall where many music school senior recitals are held. And, of course, the Federation Contest “Honors Recital” which I attended for years. You never knew whether you’d been chosen to perform in this until they called your name. Mine was called exactly once — right after a young Joshua Bell performed (yes, that Joshua Bell). Gulp. Stomach in a pretzel.
On this particular day, it was fitting that I could hear ridiculously difficult piano music emanating from the hall. I walked around a bit, feeling free that I no longer had any need to feel nervous here (although I still did, slightly — ingrained habits are hard to break).
I knew it was time to head back out into the sunshine. But first, I peeked through the recital hall door window at the guy playing, and mentally wished him well. There will always be songs to be played, and I hoped he’d enjoy those allotted to him.