Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Promise--Today's Story

The story for today was published in an anthology compiled by HCI called Ultimate Teacher.  See if you can tell why it appealed to the editors for their theme. What happened with me and the professor has been a forever memory--the fear, the dread and the joy at the end are still with me.

The Promise
By Nancy Julien Kopp

I woke that fateful day immersed in anxiety and misery. How would I survive what lay ahead? It was 1959, my junior year in college, and I was studying to become a teacher.

I loved it, thrived in the preparations I was making to become a professional educator. Classes in English, Psychology, Reading Methods and more gave me no problems. What loomed ahead this awful day, however, made me shiver with fear.

No way out. I had to face the music I told myself as I dragged my reluctant body from the warm cocoon of blankets. Face the music? That was exactly what I had to do this morning. My churning stomach meant breakfast would be skipped today. Each tick of the clock brought me closer to disaster.

I donned coat and gloves, wrapped a scarf around my neck and set out on legs that felt heavier with each step. For once, I didn’t relish the walk across campus. Face the music? I shuddered as that simple phrase skipped through my mind once again. I journeyed slowly to the final exam in my Music For The Elementary School class…an exam with no paper and pencil. I might have done all right with a test like that. Instead, the professor would select any three songs of nine we were to learn to play on the piano. The pieces were not concertos or etudes. These were little children’s songs, like “Mary Had A Little Lamb”.

The professor explained the first week of class that we had to learn three groups of songs in three different keys. To be sure, we had all semester to do this, plenty of time to master them, he assured us. Music Department pianos were available for practice.

“Piece of cake,” the girl next to me said
“Easy enough,” another chirped as I glared at her.

“Cinch class,” yet another said rolling her eyes to Heaven.

I kept my silence, but the worry started, right then and there. I had many talents, but music was not one of them. I liked to listen to it. I was able to appreciate it, but I could not learn to tap a triangle at the right time in third grade. I could not sing on key. I could not read the musical notes on a staff. No musical aptitude whatsoever. No musical education either.

I signed up for practice times several days each week all semester. Anyone nearby must have winced at my efforts. Lovely songs tripped off the fingers of other practicing pianists, and the music floated through the hallway.

I asked my roommate for help. After several sessions, she told me it was a hopeless cause and suggested I cry on the professor’s shoulder, plead for mercy or something more drastic. What the more drastic might be I feared to ask.

I did talk to the professor, poured out my tale of woe. I explained that I was “Musically Handicapped.”

“Have you put some effort into this?” he asked me. “Really put some work into learning to play these little songs on the piano?”

With tears threatening, I assured him I had. His answer was that I would do fine when the time came, and he strode out of the classroom after patting me on the shoulder.

Now, the day of my demise had arrived. I could not have feared execution any more than I did this music exam.

The professor greeted me with a smile, rubbed his hands together and said, “Well now, are we ready?”

I sank onto the bench and attempted to play the three songs he selected. He kindly picked what were probably the three easiest pieces, and I managed to butcher each one.

At the end of my futile performance, the professor beckoned me to his desk. He looked at me, started to speak, then stopped and wiped his hand across his forehead. “Nancy, this is what we are going to do. You’ve put forth a great deal of effort, so I will give you a C in this class on one condition.

“Anything,” I answered.

“You must promise me that you will only teach in a school that also employs a music teacher!” He grinned at me after making the statement.

With vast relief, I made the promise.

I taught in more than one school district, but I always made sure it was one that had a music teacher. I watched with great admiration as music class was conducted, as songs were played on the piano the teacher rolled from classroom to classroom twice each week. What a genius she is, I thought, as her fingers flew across the keys.

To this day, the only musical thing I play is a CD player or radio. After all, a promise is meant to be honored.


  1. Music may not be your gift but those fingers create magic with a pen and paper. <3

  2. What a nice compliment and so nicely said. Thanks much, Bobby.