(continued) She was a kind lady with a serene disposition. Her build was short, reaching to my shoulders, and I was only of average height. I did not know her age but assumed it to be near sixty. Her face had a complexion of someone younger, but her hands and neck were wrinkled and failed to conceal her ageing.
Any news of your exam results? she asked when we took our places at the piano.
Not yet. I should hear in a week or two.
What would you like to do now you have left school? she asked, looking at me with her calm blue eyes. Any thoughts for college?
I took my music books from my bag and placed them in front of me. I'm not quite sure what I want to do yet, I said.
Well, what are your interests?
I looked over the piano and stared at the wall. Well, I'm quite interested in English history and I also like writing you know, short stories and essays.
That's good, she said, kindly. Knowing which subjects interest you should make it easier to decide. I like English history too.
I know it might sound silly, but I'd really like to be a
performing pianist and songwriter, maybe in a club or a theatre. I turned on the stool to face her. I could feel the excitement in my voice as I expressed my passion for the piano and for music.
You have shown a lot of enthusiasm in your lessons, and that is good. She smiled at me warmly.
So do you think if I carry on practicing I'll be good enough to play the piano professionally, I asked excitedly. It just takes practice doesn't it, the more you do the better you get?
I looked at the narrow black and white keys in front of me and hoped they were not made of ivory. If they were, I wondered how many elephants had been hunted to produce the eighty-eight keys that were used to make this fine instrument.
My mind returned to the present as Mrs Dalloway spoke:
Yes, practice is the key to becoming good at anything, she replied. If you continue to put as much time into your practice as you do now, you will achieve the skills to play very well.
Yes, that's what I thought.
But, you have not been playing for that long, she said. You only started two years ago, but you've done well to get to Grade Three standard. She brushed her dark hair from her face. Most pianists at the professional level have been playing since they were very young, some as young as three or four years of age. By the time they are your age, they are playing in competitions before an audience or part of an orchestra.
I felt a little deflated and it must have shown on my face. Do you think I'm dreaming, thinking I could be a pianist?
There is nothing wrong with having dreams, Mrs Dalloway said. Everybody has them; they keep us alive inside. They stir us, like butterflies in your stomach. Most things would not be achieved without peoples dreams. She shifted on her chair and crossed her legs. But we also need to remember we have a reality side to us, she went on. It must not block our aspirations, but work with them.
I remember an occasion when my father called me a dreamer and said that I lived on Cloud Nine. I was playing Dungeons & Dragons, shaking the irregular shaped dice to create my characters on paper. He couldn't comprehend the fantasy world that I was playing in. Shouldn't you be doing something more constructive, he said. Something other than playing that rubbish. Thinking about it now, Cloud Nine must be an overpopulated place filled with fantasy gameplayers and maybe a few musicians too. Maybe you should not look too far ahead, Mrs Dalloway said. See how your skills develop in the next few years. She turned to the first page of the music. Its title was Sonata in
C sharp minor, also known as Moonlight. I adored this piece and had asked if I could learn it for my lessons. Mrs Dalloway said she was happy to teach it to me, but added that it was a
little advanced. Its difficulties failed to impede my enthusiasm.
Sometimes I imagined playing in the Royal Albert Hall. I'd perform a flawless rendition of Moonlight, to the overwhelming satisfaction of the audience. I imagined the clapping as I eased off the stool to bow. Or sometimes I'd imagine playing for the guests at our Christmas dinner party. My mother would say: Play Moonlight Sonata, Nana hasn't heard you play it. And I'd please her with a gracious performance.
My eyes focused on the page. The music didn't look too difficult. There was a uniformity to the triplets for the right hand and the occasional chord for the left.
I began to play, paying close attention to the four triplets in each bar. I tried to obtain a pianissimo that was neither patchy nor dull, but failed to achieve the required delicacy. As I played I could hear in my head my CD recording and I tried to follow it, but stumbled as I reached the end of the passage I had prepared. I felt disappointed I knew could have played it better. Mrs Dalloway said that it still needed lots of work but assured me that I was improving.
I left Mrs Dalloway's house later than expected, as was often the case. She did like to talk, sometimes doubling the duration of my lesson. I didn't mind; she was pleasant to talk to. I cycled back along the A47 trying to outpace the falling sun.
Arriving home when the evening twilight had been replaced with darkness, I entered the kitchen to see my mother swallowing some medicine. Her olive coloured skin usually gave her a healthy look but she was particularly pale today.