Life these days is a jigsaw puzzle. To be more precise, it is several jigsaw puzzles that have gotten jumbled together, leaving us to sort out the pieces. Some fit, some don’t. After a cloistered year, we’re trying to put together a complicated scene consisting of old and new habits and, quite simply, we have too many funny-shaped pieces. Or, depending on the day, not enough.

Maybe it is our perception that is misshapen these days, false edges and ragged corners undermining our previous understanding of how to arrange a day and structure a week. Every day we are faced with strange and unsettling disconnects, restrictions and freedoms all at once. I can hug my vaccinated parents again and walk freely outside without a mask, but still no singing in groups. At least not inside, and maybe only masked outside and spaced very far apart? The rules and regulations muddle the mind. No wonder we are struggling to figure out what pieces fit.

Nowhere is this truer than in the piano studio. After months and months of an alternating online and in-person schedule, we are finally back to regular face-to-face lessons. We are, of course, spaced across the room from one another, on two different instruments, trying to speak clearly through a mask (Do you know what sounds like “B”? “D.” And “E.” And also “G.” Pretty much the whole musical alphabet.). It also means that after an entire year of lessons in which I was basically hearing this:

 

There is a bit of musical ground to recover. This reminds me of something that happened years ago at a May recital. During the reception afterwards one mother came up to me. “Amy,” she began, “I have to tell you what Jonah said this morning.”

Apparently, Jonah had woken up that morning and announced that he had to have “Amy’s email address.” “Why?” his mother had asked him. “What do you need to tell her?”

“I have to tell her that there is just NO WAY that I’m going to be able to play the dynamics tonight at the recital,” he said. “I have to write her right now.”

I have had a long list this year of things that there was just NO WAY I could teach. Like nuanced pedaling. (What does pedaling sound like on Zoom? Like nothing.) I can finally fuss about hand alignment and posture and feet. We can do rote pieces again (Woo-hoo!), we are playing duets again (albeit on two different instruments), we are doing rhythm games again (no more time delay across the slow internet!), we are sight-reading together again every week.

“Katie,” I said to a student just last Tuesday, “do you notice how well you are sight-reading?”

“Yes,” she responded.

At this point, my educational psychology training kicked in. I couldn’t help myself. I had to get her thinking about why this skill of sight-reading was important, and why this assignment of sight-reading a piece every day would remain on her assignments until, like, forever.

“Do you know why we sight-read?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she answered confidently.

This startled me. I was not expecting her to have thought this through.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because if you were ever in a performance and then you turned the page and realized, ‘Oh no! I never practiced this page!’ you could just sight-read it.”

This sounds suspiciously like a repeated nightmare I have in which I have gotten to a concert only to realize I never learned (or memorized, depending on the dream) the second half of the program. I must admit that this is an excellent reason to be good at sight-reading and one that I will consider carefully in the future.

Speaking of dreams, once I had a dream in which I was working in a study lounge somewhere and left my Educational Psychology textbook behind (This singular book doesn’t exist, but sounds like it would be important, doesn’t it?). When I returned to fetch it, I discovered that someone had taken it and sold it to buy a kitten. “You know kittens are usually free, don’t you?” Matt asked me when I told him about my dream.

I do know that. Last Saturday we got ourselves one of those free kittens, a feisty creamsicle named Trollope. Truffle, who never said a word until Trollope arrived, spent 24 hours hissing and growling at him before she realized that it might be more fun to wrestle and chase and cuddle the little guy instead.

On Sunday night we were sitting out in the courtyard with a friend, drinking wine and eating bruschetta. As we lingered in the golden light, two kittens had their noses pressed to the screen doors watching us. “You have a whole new family,” Julia said.

Another puzzle piece falls into place.

 

 

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