The average length of a woman’s hand is 6.8 inches from wrist to fingertip. The length of mine is well under six—I have childish hands disconcertingly attached to an otherwise average person. In spite of this anomaly, and beneath the grueling mockery of those who claim to know at least a legion of fifth-graders with hands bigger than mine, my hands have served me just fine. To their credit, their mobility and appropriate proportions have allowed me to live a perfectly ordinary life.
But if I’m allowed to lament just a little, when taken together with the rest of my body, I look like I wasn’t quite assembled correctly. As if somewhere during my conception, the poor gene that would grow my two palms and ten fingers was struck by a malady so sudden and crippling that it became too disoriented to carry out its instructions properly. But whatever it is, my hands just stopped growing, and I’m stuck with them now.
I wonder if there was a precise moment when I became frustrated with this peculiarity. Maybe it was when my cheeks flushed red after the football toppled out of my hand for what seemed like the millionth time in middle-school PE. I squeezed my fingers extra tightly and stared at my target with ferocious ambition, but every time I hoped to see any semblance of that glorious spiraling arc, I only saw the football slip and fall to the ground a mere few feet away from me.
Or maybe it was when my piano teacher suggested a beautiful Andalusian melody to add to my repertoire one year, only to rescind it when we realized I had no hope of reaching the intervals it demanded. I still listen to it and wonder what it would sound like on my piano.
I soon recognized that my dwarfish appendages were proving to be a real shortcoming, and I naturally blamed them for the problems they caused. At a piano evaluation one year, I was required to demonstrate a technique that I hadn’t had to in previous years. That one was especially daunting because my fingers could barely reach the correct notes half of the time. I tried to do it just about every day, but I could never play it just right. Anyway, at that moment, sure, my heart was probably pounding and my palms inopportunely sweating, but what I remember most is staring at the keyboard and its row of black-and-white teeth flashing back at me in a wide, sinister grin.
Performed well, the notes should have been glimmering raindrops, dancing one by one in clean concision. They should have sprung a wistful tear to the eye, coaxed a warm nod of approval from the evaluator. Unfortunately, by now, one can hypothesize how the music did sound. Perhaps its only saving grace was that it could make the soundtrack of a Tom and Jerry chase (imagine Tom stamping across the keyboard in hot pursuit), with no shortage of discordant clangs and pummeled strings. Disgraced, I rushed through the rest of the music that I had prepared for eight painstaking months.
In any case, the results for that performance were subpar, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise. But seeing the marks with my own eyes made me wonder if I was just not cut out for the piano. Being incapable of perfection, I wondered if there was even a point in continuing.
Alas, all I have is small hands. So what? My goal is not to complain. Maybe I’ll never be the next Liszt, but do I even want to be?
As for middle-school PE, I’m pretty sure I had never aspired to become a professional football player in the first place. Surprising as it may seem to me in the eighth grade, the horrors of fumbled passes and missed tosses would not torment me deep into the future. Some things can just be moved on from.
To my surprise, I suspect that I’ve been able to cultivate my skills in other areas precisely because of these setbacks. In my music, I discovered that I can make the music uniquely my own in shaping the voice it takes on beneath my fingers, and this is a goal I can cultivate to fruition regardless of my hands. Indeed, more than the range of notes my favorite performers can hit, I realize that I admire their tone, touch, and phrasing. In the end, what is the harm in a truncated chord if the return is exceptional lyricism? So although it seems that pianistic virtuosity and expansive intervals can impress an audience (or earn a superb technical score), one’s ability to give the instrument life is what captivates it.
Through endless trials and tribulations, my miniature hands have proven to be limited in their means to conquer the instrument. But maybe my key to musicality is not to conquer but to befriend. My inability to subdue the piano has taught me to understand, to negotiate, and to amuse. Though I sit before the same beast every day in all of its enormity, I don’t remember seeing its teeth glimmer maliciously in quite some time. Rather, I’ve learned to love the instrument and my idiosyncratic relationship with it, a far cry from my exasperation at the universe’s injustices years ago at that evaluation.
Currently, I’m studying a piece affectionately nicknamed “Wrong Note.” My teacher affectionately calls it “inhumane.” Structured upon implausible jumps at a dancelike speed, it demands a precision and elegance that I probably have not yet attained, but I have faith that I can. As long as I avoid attributing my hardships to unalterable disadvantages such as the length of my fingers, I will have the perspective that encourages me to keep at it.
The piece derives its beauty from discordant notes. Leave it to a physics student to explain why, but notes that are too close to each other are less satisfying to the ear. When such incongruous notes are heard in a performance, one often assumes that the performer has accidentally struck a wrong note. However, through the melodies which delight the heart in the way that a toddler’s first steps or a baby goat’s teetering trot might, and through the rhythm’s endearing hesitance, the composer reminds us that there is beauty in dissonance and triumph in being almost.
I imagine that I will play many wrong notes, some of them on purpose, and some of them grievous mistakes. My fingers will stumble, hobble, and ache. I will experience frustration that’ll convince me once again that the world is about to end. Still, I am eager to hear these wrong notes—within them, unimaginable revelations await discovery.
Olivia is a student writer from California, and enjoys a multiplicity of other art forms as well.