"Hurry and finish breakfast, honey," I urge my daughter. "We have some new music to learn today."
The sun is barely up, yet here we sit on the piano bench, mother and daughter, welcoming the new day in song.
"Finger three goes on G," I gently instruct. "Are your fingers curved and in good position?"
Blue eyes rolling, 7-year-old Emily sighs before repeating the measure, adding a little "forte" to emphasize that this time she did indeed hit the correct note.
Be careful not to be too hard on her, I tell myself. Stress the positive and make it fun.
"That was much better!" I say.
I think back to my own mother, 30 years ago, sitting beside me as I practiced scales and sonatinas before sunrise. With her pink satin slippers peeking out from under her bathrobe, Mom sipped coffee while guiding me through my lesson books. We were 6:30 people, meeting at the crack of dawn each day like clockwork. ("It's best if you get your practicing out of the way before school" was Mom's adage.) Despite working a second-shift job and getting only six hours of sleep, Mom never missed a practice session.
"That was nice," I say to my daughter. "How about trying it one more time?"
Mom's instruction was always subtle, her gentle manner filling me with love. (Love for music or for our time together, I now wonder?) Her coaching was about life: Practice every day. Always try your best. And the knowledge that I didn't fully realize until years later: Spend quality time with your daughter. Be there for her no matter what.
Sliding across the piano bench, I give Emily a hug. We play duets and alouettes; not perfectly at first, but eventually with some semblance of harmony and rhythm.
"Let's play it again, Mom!" Em's eyes, the same pair that were rolling with frustration just 20 minutes earlier, are now brimming with the glow of accomplishment. I, too, feel a sort of glow – a love between generations cemented years earlier on a piano bench in the early light of day.
"Mom, you should have heard her play at the recital!" I say. "She didn't miss a note!" It is a week later, and I'm feeling the need to brag about my young musician. I know exactly whom to call first.
"Well, of course she did a great job! You tell Em that Grandma is proud of her. And don't forget to give her a big, sweet kiss."
Hanging up the phone, I walk into my bedroom, checking that the alarm is set for the next morning. We are, as we always have been, 6:30 people, mother and daughter, playing our instrument of love.