Sr. Anna

Treble clef. Bass clef. I remember having to memorise which was which and how to write -- draw? -- the symbols on the music sheets. One was a bass clef, it curved to the right and looked a little like an inverted letter C with a colon next to it. The other was a treble clef and resembled an S although not exactly. It curved and looped and had a little tail, almost like a hook. That was how I learned to differentiate the two.

Bass clef. Treble clef. Thus began my music lessons with Sr. Anna, the rather cantakerous nun who ran the music department in the school. One of my classmates was taking piano lessons and I had expressed interest in it. I think I was about eight years old at the time. I had always been drawn to music, wishing I could play the piano or later, wishing I had a beautiful voice and sing like a soprano. Music was -- and is -- a beautiful thing.

One had to practice in order to improve but I don't think I practiced very much. I wasn't naturally gifted either but that is more of an excuse than a reason. Much later, when I had stopped piano lessons completely, I still had visions of playing the piano with a flourish and ease, the fingers travelling all over the black and white keys, creating a beautiful noise. Music. I loved music. And I realised that I wished that I could play the piano beautifully rather than actually playing it. I dreamed too easily. I let go of dreams too easily.

Having studied in a Convent during my primary and secondary school days, I realised that nuns -- those religious sisters in their habits and veils -- came not only in different shapes and sizes, but were different in temperament as well. Much later, I also realised that they were only human after all, just like the rest of us. I admired their vocation and their decision to choose a way of life that was so alien to me but which I later on thought that I would aspire to. It was a different way of life, to be sure, a way of life that required a great deal of sacrifice, a life of prayer as well as a life of service. I was definitely not called to a cloistered order but I did feel within me that perhaps I was called to a life of service with a religious order that ministered to the needs of troubled young women. I supposed I thought that my past experiences with my father gave me a compassion and empathy that would help me in that role. And I really did want to help.

Sad to say, I didn't really follow it through. I started, then I stopped. I aspired -- or I thought that I did -- to be a nun and even though I attended a few retreats to discover, or to discern, if that was to be my vocation, I stopped short of actually being a novice or even an aspirant within a religious community.

I didn't see it all the way through.

A similar pattern followed my piano-playing days in the years that preceded my religious fervour as a young adult and a genuine soul-searching for what I thought He wanted me to do. Yes, I was seeking His will for me.

Sr. Anna wasn't always the easiest person to get along with and I think there were times when I was even afraid of her. My love of music, and especially the piano, did develop then, but it was my younger brother who later took up piano lessons himself and has never looked back since. He pursued it with a fervour and a desire and yes, even a talent, that I could never compete with. And I wouldn't want to.

I remember her veil and her knee-length dress and my visits to her music room. And before anything else started, whether it was on the blackboard or on the music sheet, I came to recognise, and to write, those very distinct music symbols: bass clef and treble clef. It doesn't seem like much now, of course, and yet, as I head on into my forties and remember more and more of my childhood days and aspirations, I remember being able to read the music notes and writing them on the board or in my music book. Before it all began, there was the treble clef and the bass clef. And there was Sr. Anna, pressing my finger, repeatedly hitting one key to demonstrate that I had been pressing the wrong key. Or to demonstrate ... something. Perhaps her teaching methods left much to be desired but she did have star pupils and I obviously wasn't one of them. I don't think I ever really got to know her very well. Now that I'm an adult, I wished that I did. Maybe I would have understood her a little bit more. And I don't think I really knew how old she was. Does that matter now? I suppose not.

All these years later, I am not a pianist nor a musician. But I do love music. And I remember Sr. Anna. I remember her fondly.



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SOFTLY, in the dusk,
a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years,
till I see
A child sitting under the piano,
in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself,
the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home,
with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour,
the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer
to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato.
The glamour Of childish days is upon me,
my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance,
I weep like a child for the past.

D.H. Lawrence (1885 - 1930)



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