'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Piano Lessons.

I put a new door on one of the old sheds at the back of the garden. The door was on the point of falling apart, but I put up a new one. I’m quite proud of that fact.

My cousin June enrolled her kids, Daisy and Graham, in piano classes. The teacher used to divide her students into two groups based on their abilities, but she didn’t want to suggest that one group was better than the other (even though one of them clearly was) so she referred to the classes as ‘The red class’ and ‘The blue class’. Both classes thought that they were the better one, but it was really The red class, of which Daisy was a member, which contained the greater talent. Her brother was in The blue class. Graham and his fellow classmates were convinced that they were better than the others, and to get around their lack of musical ability, they used to play very slowly. All of the pieces they played were sad. The students in The blue class were very serious and they seemed more artistic than the others, and people came to believe that The blue class really was the better one. The students in The red class started to believe this too. While The blue class were playing very artistic pieces, they were playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. They lost confidence in their ability, and their performances were full of missed notes. Daisy and Graham practised on their aunt’s piano. She had a dog called Berry who used to sleep in the piano. Even when people played it he’d rarely wake up, but he always woke up when Graham was around. Graham once dressed as a dog warden for a Halloween party and he chased Berry around the place with a net. Daisy went as the Statue of Liberty and she chased the dog warden away. Graham and the dog haven’t got on very well since then. Berry always barks at him, and when Graham first sat down at the piano to practise, he heard a growling sound coming from inside. His aunt took the dog to the next room, where he fell asleep in front of the fire. The kids used to go to their aunt’s house almost every day in the weeks before a recital. The song Graham was going to play was just two notes played over and over again. Near the end of the song he played another two notes for a few bars, and then it was back to the first two. It wasn’t very complex, but he was note-perfect. Daisy’s tune was more complex, but she was losing confidence and making a lot of errors. She found it difficult to accept that her brother had greater musical ability than she had. She was very tempted to do something to disrupt his performance in the recital, and Graham’s repeated reminders of how he was a better pianist than her made it impossible to resist the temptation. She brought her aunt’s dog with her to the recital, supposedly for ‘moral support’ and nobody questioned this because they felt she needed all the support she could get, given her lack of musical talent. Berry loved Daisy after she rescued him from the dog warden. Before the recital began, she got the dog to go into the piano. She gave him a few biscuits and he fell asleep. The plan was that he’d start barking or growling as soon as Graham sat down at the piano, just like he did at their aunt’s house. Graham wasn’t on until near the end, just before his sister. Members of The blue class did much better than the red. One girl played a single note, and then a second note three minutes later. It got a huge round of applause, which only added to the pressure on Daisy’s classmates, and they didn’t cope well under that pressure. They made countless errors. Graham was full of confidence when he sat down at the piano. Daisy was full of excitement, but there wasn’t a sound from the dog, and for a while she was worried that Berry wouldn’t wake up. He did wake up, but instead of barking or growling, he wagged his tail when Graham started playing his song, the tail gently strumming the piano strings, going up the scale when Graham played the higher note, and down when he played the lower note. It was a beautiful sound, and the audience were amazed that Graham was able to produce it. He got a standing ovation at the end. Daisy was shocked, but she tried to focus on her own performance. She went onto the stage when the applause for her brother died down. She sat at the piano, but as soon as she played the first note, Berry started barking, and he barked at every note after that too. The audience couldn’t figure out how she could produce a sound like that from a piano, but it was nowhere near as nice as the last one. She got a very sympathetic round of applause at the end. When she retrieved the dog from the piano later, he was as friendly as ever towards her, and as unfriendly as ever towards her brother. The only explanation she could think of for this was that when the dog was listening to them practise from the other room he must have thought that she was playing the simple yet note-perfect tune and that Graham was playing the one with all the errors.

The moose’s head over the fireplace has been completely expressionless for days. One of my nephews opened a jack-in-the-box in front of it the other day, just to see if he’d react, but he didn’t react at all. I think he came very close to reacting, but he did his best to look completely impassive to show that he wasn’t surprised by the jack-in-the-box. And he’s still putting the effort into looking impassive.