Our piano student sat erect in his baseball uniform, took a deep breath, and began rehearsing his two favorite pieces by Beethoven and Schumann. His thoughts seemed to be on the game he had pitched that morning, while his hands automatically played across the keys. ''A little slower . . . a little more emphasis here, David,'' the teacher insisted. After all, tomorrow was the annual recital.
The next day, admittedly a better one for baseball than indoor performances, David joined 22 other music students. The program, as polished as the children's appearances, was more pleasing to these parents than a symphony at Lincoln Center. They could fully appreciate the labor and step-by-step progress involved in achieving each level of skill, and the inner poise it takes to overcome the butterflies.
When the final applause was over, the teacher graciously thanked the parents for their support. She remarked that success is largely due to those parents who see that their children get to lessons on time, listen to their assignments, and encourage practice.
After these four years of music study, I wondered if we could pinpoint success. What exactly contributed the most to David's enjoyment? Certainly enthusiasm is basic - it overrides musical talent. Before piano lessons began, the teacher ''screened'' him for musical talent. A request to sing matching tones played on the paino came out as a monotone 'la, la, la.'' His acceptance as a pupil was due mainly to this interest and desire to learn. And interest was sustained through family encouragement, which didn't mean just organizing a daily practice routine. It meant inserting the lighter side of music through sing-alongs, mini ''concerts,'' and musical accompaniments for his sister's dancing. This helped to carry David through some gloomy days when practices turned into tears.
A quality piano added to a sense of important of music study. It heightened his awareness of harmony and discord, and he soon informed us when the piano needed tuning.
All these factors contributed to a growing dedication and appreciation of music. But there was something else. Something that motivates a student when talent, parental support, or other aids are minimal. It's an excellent teacher.
Word-of-mouth informed us that she was a talented teacher. Other sources such as recommendations from music stores, schoolteachers, church organists, or college music departments are helpful but don't always provide firsthand information on a teacher.
We arranged an interview to determine if this would be as good a match as other parents had reported. At this initial meeting, she evaluated David's readiness to begin lessons. She also gave us an indication of her teaching methods, experience with teaching children, and music background. What seemed most impressive were her qualities such as enthusiasm, sincerity, and genuine love of music. What could be better for beginning a solid foundation?
As the months and years passed, her patience, imagination, dedication, and sense of humor while imparting technical skills, kept piano study alive. Whatever distracts a young music student - baseball, homework, a lack of mental discipline - a teacher rich in these qualities is an invaluable counterforce.