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Classical Notes

Classical Notes: April 26, 2006 Archive

The Redemption of Elise

Posted at 1:38 AM on April 26, 2006 by Valerie Kahler (1 Comments)
Filed under: The blog

I played Beethoven's Für Elise during my airshift the other night. As I sat back to enjoy a few minutes of good company with this old friend, it hit me with a jolt: I was no longer afraid of it.

For many years, hearing folks mention the work, hearing it on the air or even seeing the words Für Elise in print would make me cringe...and take me back to a dark day.

Scene: Webster Elementary School in Mesa, Arizona. Sixth grade talent show. I wore a red velvet dress. Neil MacDonald was the emcee. He introduced me as "Webster's own Princess of the Piano" which still makes me feel a little queasy now, a hundred years later.

In front of every single lifeform affiliated with Webster Elementary School, I sat at the blonde spinet in the cafeteria, to play Für Elise from memory. In retrospect it's easy to shout "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?" but I was a cocky youth then and wouldn't have listened anyway.

It started beautifully! Very fluid. I'd spent a lot of time learning how to use the sustain pedal, you know. First repeat, back to the beginning. So far so good. Now, I'm supposed to take the second ending and continue on to the B section. But my fingers played the first ending, which circled me back around to the beginning. Okay, no one will notice, right? I'll just sail through to the 2nd page THIS time. Oops, missed it again. By about the 5th time through that first page I finally gave up and ran out the door.

What a drama queen.

Needless to say this wasn't an eventuality poor Neil had planned for. Ever seen a sixth-grader try to improvise through awkwardness like that? Me neither, because I had run all the way home by that point. (I lived across the street, so it wasn't impressive as it sounds.) You know how when you're little you can cry so hard that you kind of get the hiccups? Well, I wasn't doing that - no matter what my sister says.

The other night it was John O'Conor at the black Steinway instead of the blonde spinet. I was so charmed by the performance that I forgot to hold my breath during that transition.


p.s. For those of you who have made it this far, I want you to know that after I stopped hyperventilating, I walked back across the street to the cafeteria. The talent show was still going on. I went on after the next act, and finally got it right.

I just wish Neil hadn't introduced me as the Princess of the Piano again.

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