Epic Contrast

I am four years old in this memory. One day, at my local YAMAHA music school, we are assigned a homework to compose a little music piece from a given prompt. The prompt is a short melody, and we are expected to expand it, add some harmony, and make it into a full piece.

As always, I forget about my homework the moment I leave the classroom. My mind is already occupied with more important matters. For example, what fun thing to do with my friends today. Or, what story I want to play with my dolls in the evening.

Every evening, after dinner, my mother reminds me to do my music practice of the day.

“Sweetie, it’s your practice time,” she calls out, as she starts washing the dishes in the sink of our tiny old kitchen. “Do it now before you play with your brother.”

My “music practice” usually lasts for only 5 to 10 minutes. I play all the pieces I have learned in the class on my digital piano, and by the time my mother finishes cleaning up the kitchen, my practice is also over.

But this week, I am supposed to compose my own music. I have no idea how to do it. Even worse, I have no desire to do it. The task remains unexplored until the night before my next lesson.

“What?” My mother becomes upset when I tell her that I have not yet done my homework. “The lesson is tomorrow! You must do it NOW!”

That night, after finishing all the dishes, my mother sits next to me in front of my digital piano and asks me what melody I can come up with that might go well with the given prompt.

“I don’t know,” my answer is immediate, showing no desire to think further.

“You must think and try,” insists my mother. Then, she tries something on the piano. She is no musician, but she manages to come up with what sounds like a melody. “How about this?”

“That’s good. I like it.”

“Now what?” asks my mother, not at all discouraged by my less-than-eager response. “This is your homework. You need to think! What melody can come next?”

My mother and I grind our musical creativity that evening for over an hour, and finally, we manage to produce a somewhat complete music piece. It is a very short piece, with a simple development and a rather unexpected ending with a mysterious harmony. Though not sure about the quality, I am happy that I have something to show to my teacher.

The next day, in the group class, our teacher asks everybody to play the piece they have composed. When my turn comes, I play the short piece my mother and I have made with much struggle the night before.

“Oh, I like that ending,” says my teacher as I finish playing. “That’s interesting and unexpected!”

Everybody claps their hands, and I am relieved that my turn is over.

Most of my classmates’ pieces are also short and simple except one. One of my best friends, who loves piano, has composed a most intricate piece. After the prompt, her music turns into a lively waltz, reminding me of a picnic in a beautiful flower garden.

When the long and highly creative piece has come to an end, the whole room falls silent in awe. Then I hear my mother whisper to my friend’s mother.

“Did she make this herself?”

“Yes,” my friend’s mother replies, laughing. “Yes, she was so into it.”

No further words come out of my mother’s mouth. She is totally impressed. So am I. And this is something I will forever remember – the contrast between the bloody composition process I went through with my mother and my friend’s elegant and sophisticated music piece.