90: Making My Music

90: Making My Music

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Making My Music

Music expresses that which cannot be said
and on which it is impossible to be silent.

~Victor Hugo

Throughout my life, I have had many teachers. They come in many forms—parents, friends, brothers, sisters, teachers, and the kind that has had the most effect on my life—piano teachers.

I had been playing classical piano for five years when I walked up the steps of the porch of a yellow house with peeling paint. I had acquired an interest in jazz and needed a new teacher with different knowledge to introduce me to jazz piano. I knocked on the door and waited. This pause would become familiar to me, as I often had to knock twice before I heard any movement from inside the house. The man who opened the door was short, with curly dark hair streaked with gray.

He spoke carefully, never wasting words. “Hello, my name is Michael. I assume you are Charlie?” After my affirmative response, he showed me into his house.

The first thing I noticed about his piano was its shine. It was like a dark mirror, so clear that you could easily watch your hands dance along the keys. Michael would sit next to me in a folding chair and we would discuss, play, and write about my discoveries in jazz. He was friendly and easy to get along with, and he always challenged me to think and learn about the new world I had entered.

I remember our last lesson together well. I was tired on that particular day, and ready to go home. We were working on improvising. He told me to sing a passage, then find it on the keyboard and play it. I was having a hard time with this because I’m shy and I almost never sing, so we stopped. I asked why we were learning this way.

“Because otherwise,” Michael said, “you won’t be expressing yourself. You will just be randomly playing notes on a piano. The song won’t be you anymore, it will just be sound.” Then he bid me farewell and I left. I never saw him again.

I stepped onto the same porch two weeks later and began the familiar wait at the door, but this time, I had a companion. A tall, dismal gray tank stood next to me. Reading the side, I learned that the tank held oxygen. It was empty. The door opened revealing an older man who peered at me curiously.

“I have a lesson here, with Michael,” I told the man, who continued to look at me carefully. At the mention of Michael’s name, the man’s face melted into sadness. “Michael won’t be giving any lessons today. Would you like to talk to his wife, Carol?” the man asked quietly.

“Yes, please,” I answered, with dread filling me as I waited for her. She came to the porch and told me news that was both startling and confusing.

“I am so sorry you came all the way here,” Carol said. “I called your home, but I guess you never got the message. Michael is very sick and unable to leave his bed,” she told me, but by the tone of her voice, he seemed to be suffering from more than a cold.

“How sick is he?” I responded, eyeing the oxygen tank suspiciously.

“Very sick,” Carol said with her voice faltering. Tears came to her eyes. I quickly expressed my sorrow and left the porch, alarmed.

On the following Monday, my worry for Michael had faded in the rush of schoolwork. Once I got home, my mother told me the horrible news that Michael had passed away over the weekend. I sat in our armchair and let the shock pass through me.

I thought back to our last lesson and the importance of what he taught me. I still remember leaving and thinking of how important his last statement was. He had told me the true way to make music, is to make music with meaning—otherwise, you’re only making sound. To this day, every time I sit down at the piano, I think of how I have to express myself through my music. I will always remember Michael for the last lesson he gave me—the lesson of how to truly make music.

~Charles Hoffert

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