Pretending to be serious

Throughout my childhood, I learned piano at a local music school designed for children and teenagers. The school had a rigorous curriculum, and in addition to the weekly piano lessons, every Saturday, we were required to participate in one choir practice and one music theory class as a way to develop our musical capacity.

I must say I wasn’t a most devoted student, but this Saturday activity was something that I always looked forward to. My two childhood best friends were also there, and since we no longer lived close to each other, Saturday was the only day of the week when we could meet and spend time together.

There were about thirty students in the choir practice. The three of us always sat together somewhere in the middle of the group.

Each choir practice started with a vocal warm-up. The whole class was divided into a few groups, and group by group, we were called to the front to do the vocal warm-up. We then would form a line in front of the piano with a small mirror in our hand. The mirror was to help us keep the right mouth shape as we did the warm-up exercise.

As soon as the piano started playing to guide the vocal warm-up, our teacher walked around, visiting each student and checking their posture and mouth shape. She was a kind, energetic woman in her early seventies, who had a practical wisdom to stay calm and cheerful while working with us young chaotic students – most of us were there to socialize with our friends rather than to practice the songs!

When it was our turn, my friends and I went to the front and started singing to the piano with our mirrors held in front of our mouths. While singing, we secretly continued our conversation, chatting about this and that and laughing. When the teacher walked in our direction, however, we stopped talking and sang to the piano with a straight face and posture. Our teacher would look at us, check our postures, listen to our voices, then move on to the next students with a satisfactory smile.

Once she was gone, my friends and I resumed chatting and laughing. After a while, the teacher walked back in our direction, and as soon as we saw her coming, we put on a straight face and sang to the piano, opening our mouths as wide as possible.

“I try to look serious when she comes,” my friend whispered to me once, and I burst into laughter. It was funny to hear somebody else verbalize what I had been thinking in my head.

“You’re having a lot of fun!” Our teacher’s voice rang next to me as I tried to recover from the laughter. “Something happened?”

Smiling, she corrected my posture and motioned me to open my mouth properly before moving on to the next student.

Such was the routine between us and the teacher in the choir practice. Every week, we enjoyed playing the game “pretend to be serious” in front of our teacher, and she pretended not to notice it. And she did it very well.