"No! I won’t do it!" she said, and then, she struck her hand on the keyboard.
I felt uncomfortable, didn’t know what to say.
We were rehearsing Brahms’ Haydn Variations for two pianos.
I had asked her to play a passage in a certain way.
Four years before, she’d been my piano teacher for a year. Let’s call her Susan.
My chamber music partner was busy delivering her first baby and I had asked Susan to play the Variations with me for my exam in September.
I think I asked her because she was the only person I knew who had two pianos in her home. And she probably had played this piece already. She had a piano duet with her husband.
I was paying Susan something per rehearsal and was going to pay her to play for my exam, too. She was seven years older than me. But although four years had passed since she’d been my teacher, she wasn’t prepared to take remarks from me yet, nor was I.
No-one prepares you for this moment during your studies.
I didn’t confront her, nor speak up, having all the right to do so. Somehow, her opinion of me seemed more important at that moment, I didn’t want to upset her. Somehow, I still was her student.
I swallowed whatever was welling up inside of me and got on with the rehearsal.
I felt very uncomfortable.
On the morning of the exam, I was standing at the bus stop, just in front of my house, to get to Conservatory. Suddenly my roommate shouted out to me from the balcony. My teacher had called in, he was sick. The exam was cancelled.
I sighed with relief.
It was an internal exam, only for my piano teacher. The kind that can be cancelled and no-one raises their eyebrows.
To her credit, Susan didn’t want to take the money I would have paid her to play in the exam. I think we both were quite relieved that our collaboration was officially over.
Years later, I saw Susan on the street. I saw her from a long way off knowing that we would pass by one another. Ugh, I didn’t want to greet her. But anyway, here she was. When she was close enough, I looked at her and said hello.
Susan was looking ahead in such concentration and walking so quickly that instantly I knew she had seen me, too. But she didn’t acknowledge me. She just passed me, unnoticed.
And then, something funny happened.
I realized that I didn’t care anymore about her opinion. I didn’t feel like her student anymore, and if she decided not to say hello it was her issue, not mine. I was owning my life, and where I was as a musician. And that felt good.
When people want to avoid you on the street, it’s not always a bad thing.