A Performance

She felt herself relax as her fingers flew over the polished white keys of her expensive grand piano.

“Jessica!” She jerked to attention again as her piano teacher tapped her sharply on the small of her back.

“Sit up straight!”

Jessica nodded and smiled at her piano teacher. The piano teacher could not help but smile back too. Nobody could resist one of Jessica’s angelic smiles…

Much later that day, Jessica flopped onto her queen-sized bed, exhausted, with her arms and legs splayed out into what Mother would probably consider an unlady-like pose. Jessica closed her eyes and remembered the times when her parents had no expectations of her and just wanted Jessica to be Jessica. Then, they enrolled her for piano lessons, just for fun, and found, to their absolute delight, that she had a brilliant talent for playing the piano. That was when everything changed. Her parents became more and more demanding of her, until Jessica learned to put on the perfect facade. She learned to smile sweetly at the right time, to apologise when appropriate, and to sit up straight when playing the piano. Even then, her parents wanted more of her. They urged her to enter school competitions, and when she won those, the school competitions turned into inter-school competitions, and then, national competitions. Finally, there she was, taking part in an international competition–and that ultimate performance of her young life was only days away.

D-day arrived all too soon and months of preparation did not seem enough. Staring at the stage that she would soon step on, Jessica felt nausea curl through her entire being. Why had she agree to do this?

“I won’t fail,” Jessica whispered adamantly to herself. She had won competitions before. All she had to do was go up there and play the song she could play in her sleep. It would be easy as pie. Gazing at her parents who had already returned to their seats in the audience, she wished, for the first time in her life, that they were beside her. Her mother waved encouragingly at her and Jessica felt a surge of determination course through her. She could do this.

Her performance was going well and Jessica was sure there were no mistakes, when disaster struck. Jessica’s fingers were flying faster, when they suddenly stumbled and struck the wrong note. The horrible, disharmonious chord made Jessica cringe, but she had to go on. Panic began to course through her, and more and more discordant notes met her ears, hitting her like blows to the gut. Finally, the music ended, and the battered and bruised Jessica pulled herself out of the rubble of her collapsed reputation. Her performance had been ruined. The following hesitant applause sounded like it was coming from underwater. Dragging herself off the stage, Jessica felt tears threatening to fall freely. What would her parents do, now that they knew she was not the perfect girl they had thought she was. She would soon find out.

“Jessica!” She cringed as she heard the familiar voice of her parents. Slowly, she turned, expecting to meet the irate eyes of her parents.

“We’re so proud of you!” They gushed.

“What?” Jessica was stunned.

“You kept on going, despite the mistakes you made. That was mature and very professional!” Her parents beamed at her.

Finally, Jessica understood. She did not need to put on a facade. Her parents accepted her just the way she was.

~excerpted from an essay by Isabelle Tan (Raffles Girls’ Primary School, Primary 6 2015)

Tutor’s Comments:
  • Emotively written, especially in relation to the brief backstory and her panic when the performance went awry.
  • Great descriptive expressions pertaining to playing the piano.
  • Good, sparing use of dialogue at important dramatic moments.