Keys to a Beautiful Heart
by Sion Dayson
Tonight’s rare snow has dissolved into the usual cold rain. It’s 3 a.m. Paris time, but my body’s still tuned to the East Coast. I’m practicing “Für Elise,” decoding the notes like I did as a child. Only now it’s a digital keyboard, not a dingy upright. And I’m no longer good, but to me this doesn’t matter.
I’ve been gone almost a month and not bothered to dust. Debris coats the keys, but I don’t care to find a cloth.
I care about other things.
You told me I had “piano hands” before you knew I used to play. You admired my long, slender fingers, though you had little occasion to see them. A whole ocean stood between us, the great, wide Atlantic.
We tried lessening the distance with long email epistles. Every day the keyboard, every day thousands of words sent. We were both working on novels, but I spent more words on you. Will you keep them still, my letters?
The familiar back and forth pleas of the opening measures soon demand more of both the right and left hand. The arpeggios need attention, so I slow by half—a quarter—and even still I sound many wrong notes.
To this day I’m a terrible sight reader. In fact, I can hardly do it at all. My teacher taught the Suzuki Method in which sheet music is at first withheld. Instead we would listen. Instead train the ear.
Suzuki said children hearing fine music and learning to play it themselves develop not only sensitivity, discipline, and endurance; they also “get a beautiful heart.”
I believe my intuitive nature inherent, but perhaps it stems from this early approach? I follow the heart, not the mind, though you always challenged such a simple cliché. Discern, you’d chide. Think. About everything, really, but especially about choosing you. That brilliant, troubled mind of yours, which maybe only medication could soothe – it moved and awed me, even to the point of fright. How to love a person who keeps you so far? Even when love’s exactly what he needs? I think you were trying to save me from the burden and you were right; the paradoxes, the push and pull, proved mightier than me.
I practice the difficult bars again and again. The diminished chords, too. Keys were once made of ivory. As a kid I must have touched a grand animal’s tusks.
Twenty years ago I gave up the piano. Stopping hadn’t felt like a loss then. I was too young to realize it can be hard later to retrieve what one neglects.
But that’s not the sole lesson, because I differentiate now, too: what’s better to pursue and what’s healthy to release.
The shift to thirty-second notes is tricky, but I repeat them without rush. It seems kind of a miracle, doesn’t it? Smoothing over mistakes simply by trying again.
Sion Dayson is an American writer living in Paris. Her work has appeared in The Writer, The Rumpus, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies, among other venues. She has won grants and residencies from the Kerouac House and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.