When Luke, the 19-year old counselor at Camp Sunny Acres began playing Für Elise on the old piano in the mess hall, a crowd immediately formed around him.
“Do you take piano lessons?” 9-year-old Isabella asked, wide-eyed.
Luke smiled and let out a tiny laugh.
“I did,” he said as he continued playing the familiar piece.
The children with their skinned knees and tie-dyed shirts were quieter than they had been all day when Luke gently tapped at the keys of the piano that was so out of tune it sounded like a honky-tonk. They didn’t care and neither did he.
As he meandered through the theme, which was easy, and the subsequent sections, which were also easy, he wondered when the last time he’d even played piano was. He wondered how his fingers could even remember this piece. He thought about all of the hours he’d spent as a little boy memorizing lengthy pieces and wondered where those memories went. He thought about Rondo Alla Turca and Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C and how he couldn’t even conjure up the opening measures.
Consumed by the music, he remembered that weepy Moonlight Sonata and how playing it could make him feel uncontrollably melancholy despite anything that was happening in the world around him. Now, the real sadness lurked in the fact that he had utilized so little from his musical childhood.
When did the music lose its value? Thought Luke.
He supposed it was when he began filling out those college applications. Once the acceptance letters rolled in, thoughts of where to attend and what to study began to crowd his once fancy-free brain. It got worse from there. He somehow had to decide what he wanted his career to be. Would he study medicine or business? Law or economics? Looking at it this way, all of those commonplace options seemed more promising than becoming a musician.
Sure, he could have tried to become a concert pianist or even a pop musician, but he knew for certain there was no room in those fields for musicians who were simply good. No, he would have had to have been spectacular. And, truth be told, he wasn’t.
So, what did that leave?
Struggling for coffee house gigs and playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D at someone else’s wedding? Working this summer job was distracting and irrelevant enough. Unable to get a real internship, he settled on earning some cash at Camp Sunny Acres. At least it was kind of fun most days and the forest was beautiful.
As Luke approached the final bittersweet note, the crowd of campers had already began to dissipate. The smell of hot dogs and baked beans drew them to the serving line. The fade-out of Für Elise gave in to the clamoring of dishes and trays and the usual sound of laughter and voice in the mess hall.
When Luke looked up from the keyboard, he saw that little Isabella remained by his side.
“I wish I could play the piano,” she said.
He smiled warmly and, in his best counselor voice, he told her, “Maybe someday you will.”
But, inside, the voice of the future accountant or lawyer or director of marketing only sighed and said, “I wish I could, too.”
This story can also be found on Medium
Rachel Boury Baxter
Writer: web content by day, fiction by night.