First Lesson

by Connor Zimmerman on February 7, 2020


sheet music
Photo courtesy of

by Sarah McLaughlin ’23

How do I teach someone something that is beyond my own comprehension?
That question incessantly prodded my mind when I sat down the first day
Not at my usual seat at the keys
But instead in a chair beside them.

How do I explain that while it flows like a language, the words are beyond definition?
That thought pulsed through my head as she placed her small hands down
Hovering above keys she hadn’t yet learned to name
And stared at the book on the shelf.

How do I correct her when she makes a mistake, act infallible despite how I make them?
That worry made my fingers twitch as she pressed each ivory block with her own
From C, then to D, she began to sway
A simple melody, yet a comforting one.

The song in front of us is only two lines long, only takes a minute, one note at a time
But it’s a sequence of notes I learned years ago, when I turned the first page the first time.

How do I tell her this is only the beginning, the first sentence in a book we will write?
That is the wonder quieting my nerves as I sit there in silence and listen
Each note rings clear and crisp through the air
True and loud, without hesitation.

How do I talk about something so beautiful it is better left uninterrupted?
That is the issue today still arising when I sit down to teach someone to play
But right then, I simply waited for her to finish
To feel that unique prideful satisfaction.

I can’t help the smile that grows on my face as I observe her stern concentration
She pushes down on each key with precision, decision—and hits every one right.