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A Piano Recital Disaster, A Piano Recital Triumph, and 3 Big Lessons

Inside: A trip back to the 1990s, a funny and embarrassing piano recital story, and three life lessons that make it all worth sharing.

For someone who has never been a real performer, I have two too many stories about humiliating myself in auditoriums. And what do you do when you make a fool of yourself in front of hundreds of people. Write about it and post it on the internet.


But in addition to a ridiculous story, we have some good career and life takeaways here. Stick with me!

Here’s to You, Mrs. Valentine

I played piano for about 6 years. The past tense and verb choice is key here. Because while I played piano I never really learned piano. At least not the way you’re supposed to.

My piano teacher, Mrs. Valentine, was lovely and she tried her darndest to get me to actually learn to read music. Much to her chagrin, I always found it much more satisfying to watch her play Greensleeves and then by trial and error figure out how to make my fingers do the same thing.

If you listened to me play piano, it was halfway decent. But if you asked me to play a middle C or identify a B flat in the music book I’d stare back at you blankly until it made you uncomfortable enough to walk away. (I just had to google “names of notes” to write that sentence.)

Somehow this never became a real problem. I’d go to lessons, watch Mrs. Valentine play, practice until it sounded the same, and move along. Until that one fine day my lack of musical aptitude finally caught up to me.

Piano Recital
What I lacked in talent I made up for in posture. You go girl.

Play Us a Song, You’re the Piano Girl

I had a three song set list for the spring recital, including one my favorites: Pachelbel’s Canon. (Groundbreaking stuff.) I could play the snot out of Pachelbel’s Canon though so I don’t care if it was cliché, I loved it.

This year’s recital was in the Middle School Auditorium instead of the library– welcome to the big show. When it was my turn to go to the piano, I brought up my sheet music, mostly as a prop and because everyone else did. For all I knew it was full of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  I sat down at the piano and that’s when I made a crucial error – not sitting down at my piano in my living room and sitting down at an unfamiliar piano instead. When I put my hands on the keys it didn’t feel right and I suddenly realized I had no idea what I was doing.

My tendency to panic and do nothing hadn’t fully developed yet in my pre-teen years so I starting poking at the keys to see if anything sounded right. Ting… nope. Ding… nope. Shoot… “Pssstt… Mrs. Valentine…”

Mrs. Valentine came out onto the stage, told me the first note was a D, and walked away hoping for the best. But she had given me no new information so I went back to the poking at keys strategy. Bing… nope. Doooo… definitely not.

Meanwhile my parents are in the audience reconsidering their investment in both the camcorder and my piano lessons. “What on God’s green earth was she doing? Did we really pay for this? Should we just leave maybe? Why doesn’t she seem to be concerned that she is at a piano recital NOT PLAYING PIANO?”

No Seriously, Play Us a Song

Back to Bectoven on the stage. “Psssttt… Mrs. Valentine.” This time Mrs. V picked up my hands and placed them onto the keys exactly where they should go.

Oh riiiiiiight, this feels normal now. Good looking out, Mrs. Valentine.

I then proceeded to rock the house with the best version of Pachelbel’s Canon you’ve ever heard in late June in southern Massachusetts in the mid-90’s. The audience was befuddled, my parents were relieved, my brother had fallen asleep 15 minutes ago, Mrs. Valentine was scratching my name off the program, and I left the stage Beyonce level confident for some reason. #Flawless

If memory serves, this was the last year my parents paid for piano lessons. 

Career Takeaways

What can we takeaway from this story when it comes to career development, working motherhood, and parenting?

Oh we’ll find some stuff.

The Power Pose

Did you see that posture? What I lacked in piano skills I certainly made up for in power posing for confidence even at a young age. Curious about what good posture and power posting have to do about projecting confidence in your career and overcoming impostor syndrome? Read more here.

Keep Trying

You fail, I fail, we all fail. Sometimes we fail very publicly. But even in the face of failure, we can bounce back. Sometimes we’ll bounce back so beautifully that we’ll surprise everyone.

Ask for Help

I could have run off that stage in tears, and honestly, I’m shocked that I didn’t. How horrifying!!

But instead, what little me knew was that I needed to ask for help. I needed to ask for help several times! We need to remember that as adults too. If we don’t know what we’re doing, it’s so important to ask. Ask your friends how they have handled a tricky parenting situation, ask your coworkers to explain that Excel trick they use, ask your neighbor how she started her own company.

Ask for help friends. And then go take a bow when you figure it out.

P.S. This is actually only story two of three in the “auditorium failures” chapter of my life. Come back for post three titled “It’s Not a Beauty Pageant, It’s a Scholarship Program.”

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  1. Knowing all of the players in this story – it’s hilarious! That said, I loved playing piano but I hated recitals and just refused to participate in them.

  2. Thanks for the laugh!! I miss playing the piano. I was a music reader and always admired people who had your talent to “pick out the tune.” Really!? HOW!? Use it or lose it … I used to play the crap out of Moonlight Sonata, Fur Elise and others that make me wonder if that really was me (?). Cuz I’m at chopsticks level now. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kids like you keep piano teachers like me awake at night. I mean this in the best way possible. Teachers like me really want kids like you to learn to read notes and play and enjoy music. Students like you are so hard to teach because your ear is so good, so you really have no reason to learn notes until it catches up with you. Unless you’re a piano teacher who once was a kid like you with a phenomenal ear and muscle memory. We need more of them out there!

  4. I’m dying of laughter 😂. Aside from the recital this is my exact story. I started lessons because I was playing by ear and I never quite learned to read it, but like you hid it from my piano teacher really well. At a certain point you can’t go much further. My piano teacher broke up with me but my mom was persistent . Thanks for sharing!

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