My mother was stone deaf for 65 of 80 years. She was a great pianist. She had learned well before losing her hearing. She taught piano and tried to teach me. I just wasn’t good at learning, much less practicing. So today, our piano sits silent.
I received a letter today about a boy named Robby. His mother wanted him to learn to play. His teacher, Miss Hondorf, is the author of the true story that this article will reveal. To me, it comes close to home in more ways than one.
She writes, “I never had the pleasure of having a protégé though I have taught many talented students. Robby was 11 years old when his mother dropped him off for his first lesson. Robby said that it had always been his mother’s dream to hear him play the piano. After a few lessons I felt that his was a hopeless case. As much as Robby tried, he lacked the sense of tone and basic rhythm needed to excel. His mother, who was a single Mom, encouraged him to continue. He dutifully reviewed the scales and some elementary pieces. I sat, listened and cringed but tried to encourage him. At the end of each weekly lesson, Robby would say, “Mom’s gonna hear me play some day”.
I knew his mother from a distance as she dropped Robby off and waited in her aged car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled but never dropped in. Then one day Robby stopped coming to our lessons. I thought about calling him but assumed, that because of his lack of ability he decided to pursue something else. I was glad that he stopped coming. He was a bad advertisment for my teaching.
Several weeks later I mailed to the students’ homes, a flyer about the upcoming recital. To my surprise Robby (who received a flyer) asked if he could be in the recital. I told him that the recital was for current pupils and because he had dropped out, he did not qualify. He said his mom had been sick and unable to take him to piano lesson, but he was still practicing. “Miss Hondorf, I’ve just got to play!” he insisted. I really don’t know what led me to allow him to play in the recital. Maybe it was his persistence or maybe it was just something inside me saying it would be alright.
The night of the recital came. The high school gymnasium was packed with parents, friends, and relatives. I put Robby up last in the program before I was to come up and thank all of the students and play a finishing piece. I thought that any damage he might do would come at the end of the program, and I could always salvage his poor performance through my “curtain closer”.
The recital went off without a hitch. The students had been practicing and it showed. Then Robby came on the stage. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair looked like he had run an egg-beater through it. “Why didn’t his mother at least iron his clothes and comb his hair for this special night?”
Robby pulled out the piano bench and sat down. He looked rather strange. I was surprised when he announced that he had chosen Mozart’s Concerto #21 in C Major. I was not prepared for what I heard next. His fingers were light on the keys; they even danced on the ivories. He went from pianissimo to fortissimo . . . from allegro to virtuoso. His suspended cords that Mozart demands were magnificent. Never had I heard Mozart played so well by people his age. After six and a half minutes he ended in a grand crescendo and everyone was on their feet in wild applause. Overcome in tears, I ran on stage, and put my arms around Robby in joy. “I’ve never heard you play like that Robby, how did you do it?”
Through the microphone Robby explained. “Well Miss Hondorf . . remember I told you my mom was sick. Actually she had cancer and passed away this morning. She was born deaf so tonight was the first time she ever heard me play. I wanted to make it special”.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house that evening. I thought how much richer my life had been by taking Robby as a student. No, I’ve never had a protégé, but that night I became a protégé of Robby’s. He was the teacher and I was the pupil. For it is he that taught me the meaning of perseverance, love and believing in yourself, and even taking a chance on someone and you don’t know why.
The memory of Robby was only enriched in the knowledge that he served in Desert Storm. Robby was killed in the senseless bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, April, 1995. It was reported that he was playing the piano.”
Reading this letter and hearing this story just makes me wonder all the more, if my mother wanted me to learn to play, where one day she could hear every note.
The New Testament records Paul’s writing of an Old Testament verse, “Honor your father and your mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long upon the earth” (Ephesians 6:2).
Thanks to Miss Hondorf, for writing and sharing this wonderful story.