I am a former elementary school music teacher from Des Moines, Iowa and for over 30 years
I have supplemented my income by teaching piano lessons.
Over the years I found that children have many differing skill levels but while I've never had the pleasure of having a prodigy, I have taught some talented students. It was however in teaching a student who I believed had no talent, that I learned my greatest lesson.
I have had my share of what I call "musically challenged" pupils like Robby. Robby was 11 years old when his single mother dropped him off for his first piano lesson. Robby said that it had always been his mother's dream to hear him play the piano. So even though he was a little older than I like, I took him as a student. Robby tried but he lacked the sense of tone and basic rhythm needed to excel.
He dutifully reviewed his scales and some elementary pieces that I require all my students to learn but while he tried and tried I often found myself cringing. At the end of each weekly lesson he'd always say, "my mom's going to hear me play someday." It seemed hopeless. He just seemed to lack inborn ability. I only knew his mother from a distance as she dropped Robby off or waited in her aged car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled but never stopped in.
Then one day Robby stopped coming to our lessons. I thought about calling him but assumed that he had decided to pursue something else. Several weeks later I mailed to the students, a flyer on the upcoming recital. To my surprise Robby (who received the flyer) asked me if he could be in the recital. I tried to discourage him but he said that his mother had been sick and even though he had been unable to come to our piano lessons he assured me he had been practicing. "Miss Hondorf, I have just got to play!" he insisted.
I don't know what led me to allow him to play in the recital but I agreed. The night for the recital came. The high school gymnasium was packed with parents, friends and relatives. I put Robby up last in the program before I was to come up and thank all the students and play a finishing piece.
The recital went off without a hitch. The students had been practicing and it showed. Then Robby came up on stage. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair looked like he'd run an eggbeater through it. He pulled out the piano bench and I was totally shocked when he announced that he had chosen Mozart's Concerto #21 in C Major.
I was further not prepared for what I heard. His fingers were light on the keys, they even danced nimbly on the ivories. He went from pianissimo to fortissimo. From allegro to virtuoso. His suspended chords were magnificent! Never had I heard Mozart played so well. After six and a half minutes he ended in a grand crescendo and everyone was on their feet in wild applause.
Overcome and in tears I ran up on stage and put my arms around Robby in joy. "I've never heard you play like that Robby! How'd you do it"? Through the microphone Robby explained: "Well Miss Hondorf, remember I told you my Mom was sick? Well, actually she had cancer and passed away this morning, and well, she was born deaf so tonight was the first time she ever heard me play and I wanted to make it special."
There wasn't a dry eye in the house that evening. I thought to myself how much richer my life had become for taking a chance on Robby. That night I became Robby's prodigy. He was the teacher and I was the pupil, for it was he that taught me the meaning of perseverance, trust, in giving someone a chance and believing in yourself.
Robby was sadly killed in the senseless bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April of 1995 but what a wonderful life-changing memory he left, instilled in my mind.