True Gems Need Not Be Burnished

Commentary by Judy Winters

A few years back, my parents hosted a rare family reunion during Christmas time. All our friends and relatives were invited. After dinner was served, I decided to light up the atmosphere a little by playing a few holiday tunes on my keyboard when my niece Stephanie asked to borrow it. Seeing how enthusiastic she was about trying her hands on the piano, I was more than happy to let her try. What followed was a delightful surprise. Not only she played the tunes really well, she had a very good command of the keys.

Astonished by her refined skills, I asked her for the name of her instructor. To my surprise, Stephanie told me that she had no instructor and claimed to have learned how to play the piano from watching a musical video. Her ridiculous answer angered me quite a bit. I went on to reprimand her for not being honest.

It turned out that she wasn’t lying. Her parents later confirmed to me that she had not taken any piano lesson, and the music she played was featured in a video she regularly watched. Although I was still not convinced about the “learning from watching video” part, I did recommend her parents to hire an instructor — in view of the fact that she had a lot of potential. Stephanie’s parents heeded by my advice and hired our church pianist to teach her.

Stephanie’s mother and my other sister have always had an intense sibling rivalry. It happened that my other sister also has a daughter named Lucy, who is a year older than Stephanie. When she learned that Stephanie was taking piano lessons, my sister was determined not to lose to Stephanie’s mother. In fact, she invested quite a bit on her daughter’s musical education. The first thing she did was to purchase an expensive German-made grand piano for her daughter. She then hired a local master pianist to be her daughter’s private instructor.

On Lucy’s 11th birthday, her mom threw a lavish birthday bash for her at their seaside home. There were music, a magic show and a ten-course meal. The highlight of the night was Lucy’s rendition of Vivaldi’s Spring. Lucy delivered an excellent performance. The music was great, and her command of the notes was quite adept. However, there was something missing from her performance. It was something I could not fathom at the time.

A few months later, Stephanie’s parents asked me to babysit their two kids so they could attend a friend’s wedding. Since I had some free time on my hand, I accepted the request. When I came to Stephanie’s house, Stephanie was practicing the piano. Beside her was a full stack of music sheets — one of them happened to be Vivaldi’s Spring. The puzzling question from earlier came back to me again. I asked Stephanie to play the piece, so I could make a comparison of the two performances.

What followed was so amazing that it went beyond descriptions. Her performance was truly fantastic. Stephanie’s performance brought life to an, otherwise, lifeless living room. Under her masterful command of the keys, the vivacious and invigorating spirits of spring were once again taking center stage. Even a highly reserved person like myself could not help but to display an expression of joy.

I now realized what was missing from Lucy’s performance. Lucy lacks the ingenious touch that Stephanie possesses. This is something that cannot be bought with money, cannot be taught, and cannot be gained through experience. It is an innate ability that one is born with. There are many people who spend their entire lives, refining their piano skills, only to be trumpeted in both merit and ability, by more gifted pianists.

There is a lesson to be learned from the experience. I learned that each one of us is given a unique ability. I know for a fact that Lucy has many special abilities that neither Stephanie nor I have. It is the responsibility of the parents to help their kids realizing their true potential. Instead of imposing upon their kids what they believe are best for them, or what society hails as the standards of excellence, parents should seek to understand what their kids’ special gifts are and create an environment that nurtures and encourages the growth of such gifts.

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