A gold-star day

It was to be Tyler's debut into the world of piano appreciation. We were primed for the event. So was he - with not a little apprehension in his five-year-old heart.

Todd, his 12-year-old brother, had been this route before, though we hadn't witnessed it. Indeed, Anna, his teacher, now introduced him as a veteran and he approached the piano with confidence, went easily through Beethoven's ''Fur Elise'' and assaulted the instrument masterfully as he tore into the ''Ben Hur Chariot Race.''

After the tumult of that number Tyler's turn came. My first thought was: He's so little. People in the rear had to crane their necks to see him before he mounted the steps. Bob and I, in the first row of the church hall, sensed his quaking, though we didn't actually decipher any signs of nervousness as he stalked past to take his place. But we knew from his pensive pre-recital silence that he was brooding darkly.

''I really don't know what he'll do at the final moment,'' his mother had confided. ''If he gets buck-fever and balks, I'll just let Anna take over.''

Now Nancy and Tom sat behind us, while Todd waited to welcome his little brother. Anna smiled encouragement. ''Tyler's a kindergartner,'' she explained to the audience. ''He can't reach the pedals, so Todd's going to help him.''

It took a long breathless moment for Tyler's chubby fingers to be placed - with the aid of both Todd and Anna. Then the familiar first notes were struck, hesitant but determined. ''Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb. . . .'' One chorus. Pause. Applause. I wondered how that small thunder registered on Ty's apprehensive ears. Perhaps he and composer J. W. Schaum, wherever he was, exhaled deeply, feeling - along with Mary's little lamb - ''free to go.''

But not yet. ''Twinkle, Twinkle 50 Stars'' followed. Surely we detected rising confidence as the maestro took us musically ''up above the earth so high, like a dia-mond in the sky.'' At the end of that number Todd withdrew, bowing himself neatly out of the picture to a second burst of applause.

Tyler was now by himself. No one was near. His solo was an original composition, worked up exclusively for him by Anna and Todd. It was entitled ''Tippecanoe Song.'' Hand over hand Ty challenged the keyboard, unerringly remembering every note, not once finding it necessary to glance up at the notes. His face was a mask of concentration as he repeated the refrain. When everyone broke into spontaneous, loud clapping, he gathered up his music and turned Anna-ward for approval. When she smiled and patted his head - only then was he able to relax and smile back.

He stood and prepared to quit the stage. Just before his first step down, he remembered. He backed up. One arm across his chest, the other flung back, he made a deep and eloquent bow to all those faceless people out there who had given their appreciation. The solemnity and afterthought of the act brought another round of applause which, this time, he took in stride. Proudly he marched to his seat between grinning parents.

He had passed his first real test. In mastering himself he'd overcome fear, doubt - whatever might have tempted him, at the last moment, to balk and refuse. We all realized why this day was important. I knew, from my own experience, what intestinal fortitude it took to stand firm. Walt Whitman knew: his foothold being mortised in granite. And Shakespeare: ''but screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we'll not fail.'' And Benet: ''You came to climb, And you endure - ''

Tyler had the stuff. Why should I for an instant have doubted that he, too, could face his personal moment of truth?

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