15 July 2009

My Unexpected and Unrealized Brush With Grace

Piano. Proficiency.

Say those two words to an Undergrad Music Major and beads of sweat, uncontrollable shaking, sobs, running in circles, and other extreme symptoms of anxiety. For me, those two words were the bane of my undergrad existence.

I took private piano every semester in my undergrad program. I loved playing everything that was not directly related to piano proficiency. Consequently, piano proficiency stuff only was given a single (maybe double) run-through while everything else was practiced.

Now, I should at this point interrupt myself to remain completely forthcoming. I am not - by any stretch of the imagination - a great pianist. I never was. I never will be. I would much rather just sit down and improvise than actually play something out of a book.

The problem was that no matter how many private piano lessons I took the piano proficiency was not progressing. By now you are thinking (and you are right) that there is only one person to blame for that lack of progression. In my (poor and pointless) defense, like many thousands of other music students, I just never saw the point in learning how to play the Star Spangled Banner from memory.

The relatively sad part is that even though I wasn't progressing in the proficiency department, I kept receiving "A"s in my private lessons. Until that fateful semester when Dr. Bridgeman assigned me to Dr. McConnell.

Now, I am not sure how Dr. McConnell drew the proverbial short straw, yet was happy he did.

At the end of the term though I was still short of the bar required to pass proficiency and received a 'B'. Ouch.

I've given Dr. McConnell a lot of grief over the past few years about that 'B'. Most of the time in jest. Part of the time not.

I completely earned that 'B'. Well, in actuality, I probably earned less than that. So, yes, grace.

But that is not the end.

When it came time to graduate, all requirements met except one (well two, but chapel fines are another story) -- Piano Proficiency.

I remember it like it was yesterday (or more aptly last night's nightmare). Dr. Bridgeman administered proficiency exams. This was my fourth (or so) attempt.

Scales - check.

Hymn Sight Reading - check(ish).

America the Beautiful - check(ish).

Star Spangled Banner - oh hell.

It was bad. I don't mean "wow that was bad" kind of bad. I mean "cover your ears what the hell was that supposed to be" kind of bad. Dr. Bridgeman in a way that only she could do asked if I would like to try again. I only half-joking said not really. We tried again. Worse.

Ms. Bridgman then illustrated mercy. Opened the hymnal and said play. I did. Sorta. Better but still rough.

I passed.


Not of my own merit. Not of Ms. Bridgeman's desire to get me the hell out of her office. Just simply grace.

I was reminded recently of this story. Dr. McConnell and I have remained friends. He has helped me through numerous major life events and still the hell I've given him over that 'B'. Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.

In hindsight, I'm thankful for the grace that Dr. McConnell shared. I'm thankful for the grace Ms. Bridgeman illustrated.

I've heard grace defined as unmerited favor. It is the bridge that takes us from unsatisfactory performance to success. It is that thing that says we are worthy despite our own efforts at worthiness.

So, to Ms. Bridgeman and Dr. McConnell I say "Thanks". The lesson wasn't lost. It just took a while to learn.

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