Mr Smithson had prepared well, accompanying me intelligently and letting me make my own mistakes and decisions about emphasis and phrasing, something Miss Brough never did. She was forever on my case about how to do it her way rather than allowing me to find my own expression.
By the time my hour’s lesson had come to an end I’d accepted him as an acceptable substitute.
Walking with me to the school gate, he extended his hand to me and grasping mine firmly he shook it once and said ‘It’s nice to meet you, Jenny’. Then he turned away for the teachers’ car park as I, mystified by the unusual interaction between adult and child, headed home.
A week later I found myself once again in the door of the practice room and once again there was Mr Smithson seated at the piano. This time I didn’t question it and he offered no explanation. We just got on with my practice pieces. The Canon in D was fine as it was, being my favourite piece I played it constantly, adding in what my father called folderols and fripperies as I went; with no interruption from a teacher I gave myself a little extra freedom from the strict confines of the manuscript, finding nuances I hadn’t realised were there. The Vivaldi on the other hand needed a little more work, my home practice had not gone well as every time I’d started it I was caught up in a memory of Mr Smithson smiling and playing along with me.
Once again he shook my hand at the end of practice, leaving me mildly confused. ‘I’ll see you next week Jenny’ and with that he disappeared.
And so, over the course of the next few weeks, our paths crossed in a regular procession of practice sessions. As each week passed I grew a little more confident until the moment I unwittingly revealed the effect that music could have on me. It was the perfect C that did it, stringing across my body and zoning into the perfect sweet spot. When it was ended Mr Smithson was watching me, smiling.
‘You enjoy the music don’t you Jenny?’ it was a simple enough question and I answered honestly, not aware that I could have lied and dissembled, I was too much the unworldly child for that.
‘Yes’. I glanced away, momentarily embarrassed for the exposure I felt.
When I looked back, he was standing. ‘Would you like to join me for a coffee Jenny?’
I’d never been asked such a thing before and didn’t hesitate with my acknowledgement. We sat in the town’s local cafe for an hour and I had my first cup of coffee. The coffee went straight to my head and I found myself wondering if this was what it was like to be an adult, now of course I know about the effect that caffeine has on the body. We talked about music and Mr Smithson revealed that he had hoped to become a musician when he was younger but had lacked the skill I obviously had. He’d turned to German instead after visiting relatives in the army there when he was about my age. It explained a lot.
All too soon the coffee was finished and I was ushered out of the cafe and into his car. ‘Tell me where you live and I’ll drop you on my way home’.
I gave him directions and within a few minutes he pulled up to the kerb. ‘I’ll see you next week and perhaps we can have coffee again if you like; you might want to mention it to your mother too, I wouldn’t like her to worry’. He smiled encouragingly; I felt comfortable and safe.
(Photo courtesy: “Estatua Gonzalo Torrente Ballester Cafe Novelty Salamanca” by Pravdaverita – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)