[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n all my life, I’ve only taught one person how to play the piano. Jillian. She was ten years old, three foot tall, with coal black hair. She lived in the apartment next to ours.
When I first met Jillian, she was wrestling in the breezeway with her younger brother. She beat the tar out of him using a stuffed animal. I introduced myself, but Jillian acted like she didn’t hear me.
Because Jillian was deaf.
I’m not sure why that little girl was so hellbent on learning the piano, but she was mesmerized by the upright in my den. One day, she signed something to me. Her brother translated, “Jillian wants you to teach her piano.”
I told Jillian it wasn’t a good idea.
Jillian signed a circular, “please,” on her chest. Her face was as serious as the dark side of the moon.
So, I gave in. I tried to teach Jillian to count in rhythm, and then demonstrated hand positions. It took a few months of irregular practice. Eventually, she could eek through a simplified version of “Minuet in G” while I tapped count for her. She was terrible.
Sometimes, after playing she’d make hand motions to her brother.
He’d respond with, “It sounds great Jilly.”
I remember the day Jillian’s family moved out of the building. She and her brother came to say goodbye. Then, Jillian played on my piano one last time, just the way I’d instructed her. Her playing was out of rhythm, and she hit a river of wrong notes. It sounded God-awful.
But it was the prettiest damn music I’ve ever heard.