Apr 29, 2007

Walking on Water

by Liz Adair

Last night in the evening session of our Stake Conference one of the speakers made reference to Peter’s experience of walking on water out to meet the Savior. I nodded in silent affirmation as he told of how, as Peter looked down at his feet and at the insubstantial, fluid surface he was standing on, how his faith failed him and he began to sink. I know that feeling, for in a very small way, I have a Peter moment every weekday morning at 6:30 a.m.

Nobody ever complimented me on my piano skills, and there’s good reason for that. Growing up, my mother was convinced that I had a gift hidden somewhere inside my clumsy hands, and if we just persevered, it would show itself. We lived a nomadic life, early on, moving all our belongings in a home-built trailer my father pulled behind our 1939 Nash. Later on, the government moved us from place to place. However, wherever we were, my mother rented a piano and made some provision so I could take lessons. I remember that she did sewing for one lady in exchange for lessons. I wish I could have rewarded her efforts with more accomplishment. I loved music. I wanted to be able to play well, but I think I must not have been willing to leave my books to grind out the time to make it happen.

I got so I could play hymns passably. Alone. With no one else in the room. Add one listener and my fingers began acting like seditious anarchists, refusing to follow acceptable patterns. My poor mother! Every time she asked me to play for some visiting relative, a disaster ensued. Either I refused and went to my room to cry, or I played, stumbling over the easiest passages and changing keys in inappropriate places.

When I was sixteen, living in the tiny town of Fredonia, Arizona, I was asked to play the organ in Sacrament Meeting. Such was my devotion that I accepted the calling, but we were severely limited in the hymns that we could sing because of my inhibitions. I had a technique I used to bolster my confidence: during the meeting I would push the volume pedal all the way closed and soundlessly practice the closing hymn. I don’t know how much it really helped, but somehow it made me feel better to have that time to prepare.

One hot summer Fast Sunday, about halfway through a testimony meeting that had great swaths of silence in it, as people sat dozing or fanning themselves with the cardboard fans stuck behind the hymnbooks, I decided it was time to practice my closing song. I had taken my left shoe off to play the pedals, but had left my right shoe (red, with 3-inch spike heels) on and pushed the pedal all the way closed (I thought). Unfortunately, with that shoe on, the heel pushed the volume all the way up, not down. I had never heard the organ as loud as when that first practice chord rang out. High priests sat bolt upright, children were wakened from their naps, every head snapped around to look at me, and the teenage boys on the back row about fell of the pew, they were laughing so hard.

I don’t remember anything beyond that first chord. Was I scarred for life? Was the congregation? I don’t know, but my organ playing career tapered off after that.

Until two years ago, that is, when I was called to teach seminary. We had a competent pianist in the class that year, but she NEVER came on time, and I’m a stickler for starting seminary on time. So, I played the piano. And, I’ve discovered that, if I act like I can play and don’t think about making mistakes, I can play adequately. No, better than that. I can play well. It’s funny, because I am not consciously reading the music. I don’t even see the notes. If I look at the page and just play, I can. But if I even start to think about the mechanics of the process, or the accidental that’s coming up, then I fumble.

My class is mostly boys this year. I have two girls who are rays of sunshine, but their sunrise is always after the opening song, so usually the opening song is sung by my boys, none of whom is musical. Sometimes there’s only one or two there when we do the opening song, but, they sing. I wonder if the reason they’re willing to make that venture is because I’m willing to make it, too. And, when I’m in my walking-on-water groove and I hear that low drone in the background--my boys singing--it’s the sweetest sound in the world.

I think of my mother’s determination that I learn to play. All these years later I’m so grateful. I haven’t been able to offer much to the kingdom at the piano until now. But every morning at 6:30, I’m there for the Lord, and if I have faith, He’s there for me.


  1. Liz,
    How very fortunate those young people are to have you for their seminary teacher. I experience something similar when I play...I can practice the piece so well that I have it memorized, but once someone else is in the room...the notes seem to move all over the page, like so many hurried ants.

    I saw my seminary teacher last night for the first time in decades...What a joy! Doug still remembers that man checking him (Doug)out when we got engaged, and making certain that I was going to be well cared for...Doug claims I had half a dozen "Dads."
    I know teaching seminary is a challenge, but what a rewarding calling. You rock, Liz!

    oh...btw..I just finished reading The Snakewater Affair...what fun! It is well written. I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. How could I not love this blog, Liz, I am more and more amazed each day--well, at least weekly or monthly--at our parallels. (Since I'm much the elder, I suppose I could say I set the example.) The setting is different, but the results similar--except you tell a much better story.

    I started piano lessons when I was five. That was alo the year we began moving into a hotel in Rigby ID, for the bulk of the school year. I had a piano to play except in the three or four months we were back on the farm. When the farm-time extended to the full year, my teacher moved. Now and again, Mother found another instructor willing to teach me, so my only excuse is that books were more important to me than learning to read music.

    Mother still persisted. She bribed me with, "Lolly, would you like to practice now or help me with the dishes?" That accounts for what little I learned.

    I've yet to approach being good, but during all our moves, lacking as I am, I've often been the best available. Once at a servicemen's district conference in Japan, the situation was desperate enough to ask me to play the organ. Someone pointed out the sttings, and I managed the opening song. Then, somewhere, somehow, I inadvertently touched a set key, and I introduced the next song with a blast that almost blew the roof off.

    I also taught early morning seminary for a short while in Oklahoma.

    One big difference is that I always did better if I memorized, and thus could ignore the page.

  3. Yes, Anna, I'm constantly seeing parallels, too. Neither of us can tell something succinctly.

    I hope, if I'm still around 20 years hence I have as much wisdom as you.

    I'm soooo glad you're working dilligently on your biography.


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