Carter was the cutest little piano player the world has ever seen. He played his primer level melodies with the passion and flair of a seasoned concert pianist. He would look at me with the most sincere eyes and explain how the simple melody made him feel…. he was amazed at every new interval, rhythm and chord.
It was a joy to teach Carter, he might have only been 8 years old, but his soul seemed so much older. I felt like I was listening to these songs with new ears and I found an enjoyment in teaching that I had never experienced before.
It didn’t take long for Carter to move on to more complicated harmonies, and when I presented him a difficult performance piece with chords and arpeggios on the left hand and even a cross-handed note at the end of the song, he was determined to meet the challenge. We carefully practiced one measure at a time. All was going well until he reached a very difficult chord…..
Carter carefully examined each note of the chord, timidly placing his fingers on the correct keys. Once each note was in place, he played the the chord loudly in triumph…. but it didn’t sound quite right and his tiny fingers jumped off the keyboard as if it were made of molten lava. Carter looked at me quizzically, wondering where he went wrong. I assured him that he had played the correct chord and asked him to play it again….. the same result happened. It was as if this dissonant chord was piercing his little soul and he was absolutely sure that no one would ever create such a sound on purpose.
This wise little boy asked me, in all sincerity, if I was SURE that he was playing the right notes.
How do you explain to such a young musician the intricacies of dissonance and harmony, sound and silence, forte and pianissimo, leading tones and tonic chords? I could only tell him to trust me that it was correct as I moved to the next chord for him to learn.
The next chord was a beautiful C major chord that finished with the left-hand crossing over to the C belonging to the octave above. Carter was much happier with this chord. He played it several times to get the left-hand cross over just right. He was so proud to be playing such a hard piece.
Once the final chord was perfected, I asked him to play the previous measure again, including the difficult chord, and then to continue straight to the final measure. Carter found the correct place for his hands on the keyboard and began to play….. as he played the dissonant chord, he tensed….but as he played the final chord with the left-hand cross over, an overwhelming look of relief and joy came to his eyes. He gave me a look that seemed to say, “I get it now” and quickly played the last few measures again.
Carter learned that a song consisting of only beautiful, major chords will never bring as much beauty as a song that uses dissonance to highlight resolutions……Meanwhile, Carter’s teacher learned that the experienced teacher has a different perspective than the student and if a student trusts the teacher and follows directions in faith, the student will eventually see the big picture as well.
How quick are we to jump to conclusions that what we are experiencing in life or what we are taught by the Master Teacher are not correct. How often do we assume that the teacher is wrong when it is only our lack of understanding that is keeping us from experiencing the entirety of the message. Like Carter, it’s okay to question, as Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions or investigating our history, doctrine, and practices. The Restoration began when Joseph Smith sought an answer to a sincere question.” *The problem only exists when we give up on our teacher instead of expecting answers.*
As General Conference approaches, I brace myself and my family for all of the anti-mormon blogs and rhetoric that will try to place doubt and fear into our hearts. Perhaps their ideas come from their own short-sighted perspective, but I will choose to have at least the same faith in God that Carter had in his piano teacher and continue on throughout the dissonance while I wait for the resolution that is sure to come.
“When someone comes to you with a question or a concern, please do not brush the question off—do not tell him or her to not worry about the question. Please do not doubt the person’s dedication to the Lord or His work. Instead, help the person find the answers to their questions.” —Elder M. Russell Ballard