Compliment

There's a chapter in my life — maybe let's not call it a chapter as it's more of a swirl: brief, sudden, significant; or a fragment connected to other fragments of a similar hue, as you may have already figured out, life's like that: all over the place.

I'm talking about my enrollment at a music conservatory. Yes. In my early to mid-20s, when I started earning my own money, I intermittently took run-of-the-mill piano lessons near my work-place, during the course of which, a certain tutor encouraged me to go to the next level. And encouraged, I was.

Emboldened, in fact. I applied and, with the help of my tutor's glowing recommendation, got accepted at the conservatory.

Let's start from the end. I didn't graduate. Things came up, such as the opportunity to write for a national publication. Then I also realized that I was in the wrong program. Now I should be providing further explanation but it would sound — not just to you but to me — as if I'm making excuses. Better that we save this backstory for later, for coffee, after the quarantine. (If you're reading this from the far future, check the post date. We are in the midst of a pandemic. COVID-19 must ring a bell.)

Anyway, the hard part. Writing what I have to share. A vital information in this little story is my age at the time. Twenty six. Legit adult. I've held several jobs, as well as high positions. Yet I was reduced to a crying baby by my piano teacher. I had never cried ever in school!

For a clearer picture, this is the one-on-one practical lessons, where the instructor is seated beside you as you practice. The routine thus: I play; she insults my playing. No audience was present to witness the ordeal, but perhaps it would be better if there were. Because at least a single soul might've offered me some comfort.

The only person I confided in was my professor friend. I remember specifically asking him if my situation merited filing a grievance report. I didn't cry in front of her, by the way. I also didn't report her. She seemed to have that reputation, however. Though she was still there, thriving. Was I too sensitive? Was I a terrible pianist and couldn't just admit it? Ah, I was so angry and embarrassed.

You're probably drawing a terror teacher caricature in your head, and I will guess that you have it right. She is old, bespectacled, spinster-like, and dresses well. Fair-skinned, beautiful even. I won't be surprised if she's from a well-off conservative family.

Wow this story is longer than I imagined. Don't worry, we're nearing the point.

She has a sister. A nun who teaches sociology in the same college. I was in that class to fulfill a unit requirement.

The name has escaped me, and I can't recall what led us to that small talk, but the nun-professor told me that her evil-piano-teacher sister says that I'm good.

"Magaling ka raw."

Those words are clear enough in my memory.

WTF right? Part of me couldn't completely celebrate the second-hand compliment. Another part of me was suspicious, since Evil Piano Teacher's actions didn't match Nun Professor's message. Surely something big had been lost in translation.

I am all for discipline and rigor, values which, for me, aren't discordant with compassion. Have a heart, for chrissakes.

Though I hated that teacher, she didn't make me hate music. She made me hate the callous and fear that I might become one myself. Whenever I think of her, which is every time I play the piano, I try to be kind. There's a reason for her behavior. I also think of all the times I've heard nice things said about me by way of other people.

Why can't we look each other in the eye and tell the beautiful things that we see? It's a promise I want to keep. To let you know at once how you fascinate me.

*


Practising the theme from Love Affair by Ennio Morricone. Recorded on March 24th, a week into the Luzon Lockdown.

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