Song of Middle C by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Scott Menchin, Candlewick Press, 2009
I used to have temper tantrums over art and music. Other things, too, I’m sure, but I remember getting the most intense about drawings that didn’t turn out like the picture in my head and practice sessions that didn’t go the way I thought they should. During one of those meltdowns my mom told me once (in exasperation), “A real artist can make something out of her mistakes. Things rarely turn out the way you want them to. But a true artist can use what she’s got.” I don’t know how well I heard those words at the time—I remember thinking she had made it up on the spot to calm me down—but they sank deep and stayed with me.
Song of Middle C reminded me of my mom’s wise advice. The girl in this story is about to play in her first piano recital, and she is completely prepared. She’s been practicing her piece, “Dance of the Wood Elves”. She listens to what her teacher Miss Kari says. She’s excited and confident and wearing her lucky underwear. But things change when she gets on stage and it’s time to perform (that’s the tough part, isn’t it—things are never the same when you get up in front of people!) I love her solution (wish I had that kind of spunk), but I love her teacher’s response even more. As a teacher and a musician, I spend a lot of time working on both technical and musical precision. That covers a lot of ground, but there’s more to artistry than that. In Miss Kari’s words, “True artistry requires—” –well, I think you should read the book.