The following is a true story told by Mildred Honor, a former elementary school music teacher from Des Moines, Iowa. I was a lot like this boy Robby, she writes about when my Mom arranged for my sister and me to take piano lessons in Germany when I was twelve years old. Even my piano teacher, Brigitte, didn’t think I stood a chance of learning (and she was partially right). So you can imagine how much I can understand this story. By the way, this boy’s name is also Robert.

Mildred tells how she always supplemented her income by teaching piano lessons during the summer, something she did for over thirty years. During those years she found that children possess many levels of musical ability, and although she experienced the pleasure of teaching a prodigy, she did teach some very talented students.

However, she also tutored her share of what she called “musically challenged” pupils – one such pupil being a boy nick-named Robby. At the age of eleven, Robby’s mother (a single mom) dropped him off for his first piano lesson. She preferred that students (especially boys) begin at an earlier age, which she explained to Robby. But Robby said that it was always his mother’s dream to hear him play the piano. That was enough for her so she accepted him as a student.

Well, Robby began his piano lessons and from the beginning, she thought it was a hopeless endeavor. As much as Robby tried, he lacked the sense of tone and basic rhythm needed to excel. Nevertheless, he dutifully reviewed his scales and some elementary piano pieces that she required all her students to learn. Over the months he tried and tried while she listened and cringed and tried as best she could to encourage him.

At the end of each weekly lesson, Robby would always say “I know my mom’s going to hear me play someday.” But to her, it seemed hopeless, he just did not have any inborn ability. Mildred only recognized his mother from seeing her briefly as she dropped Robby off or waited in her to come in her old car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled, but she never came in and visited.

Then one day Robby stopped coming for his lessons. She thought about calling him but assumed that because of his lack of ability he decided to pursue something else. She was also glad that he stopped coming – he was bad advertising for her music lessons program!

Several weeks later she mailed out a flyer recital to each of the students’ homes about a recital. To her great surprise, Robby called and asked her if he could be in the recital. She told him that the recital was for current pupils and since he dropped out he really did not qualify. He told her that his mother had been sick and unable to bring him to his piano lessons, but that he kept on practicing. “Please Miss Honor, I’ve just got to play for my Mom,” he insisted.

To this day Mildred still doesn’t know what led her to allow him to play in the recital – perhaps it was his insistence or maybe something inside of her saying that it would be all right. The night of the recital came and the high school gymnasium was packed with parents, relatives, and friends. She put Robby last on the program. He would play just before she was to come up, thank all the students and their parents, and then play a finishing piece herself. She thought that any damage Robby might do would come at the end of the program and she could always salvage his poor performance through her “curtain closer” performance.

Well, the recital went off without a hitch. The students all practiced intently and it showed. Then Robby came up on the stage. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair looked as though an egg beater went through it. “Why wasn’t he dressed up like the other students?” she thought. “Why didn’t his mother at least make him comb his hair for this special night?”

Robby pulled out the piano bench, and she was surprised when he announced that he chose to play Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C Major. Everyone looked shocked! And she was also not prepared for what she heard next. His fingers were light on the keys, they even danced nimbly on the ivories.

He went from pianissimo to fortissimo, from allegro to virtuoso; his suspended chords that Mozart demanded magnificently! Never did she hear Mozart played so well by anyone his age.

After six and a half minutes he ended in a grand crescendo, and everyone was up on their feet in wild applause! Overcome and in tears, she ran up on stage threw put her arms around Robby in joy. “I never heard you play like that before, Robby, how did you do it?” Through the microphone, Robby explained: “Well, Miss Honor …. remember I told you that my mom was sick? Well, she actually had cancer and passed away just this morning. And well …she was born deaf, so tonight was the first time she finally heard me play, and I wanted to make it special.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house that evening. As the people from Social Services led Robby from the stage to be placed in foster care, she noticed that even their eyes were red and puffy. She thought to herself, how much richer her life became bringing Robby as her pupil. (By the way, she never got to play her final piece to cover up for Robby’s expected bad performance).

No, Mildred never had a prodigy, but that night she became Robby’s prodigy. He was the teacher and she was the pupil, for he taught her the meaning of perseverance and love and believing in yourself, and maybe even taking a chance on someone and you didn’t know why.

So after hearing this story, we can understand why Mildred was shocked to the core when she found out later that Robby was killed years later in Timothy McVeigh’s senseless bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. May God rest his precious soul until he plays for heaven’s choir after the great resurrection, with his mom in the audience to proudly cheer him on. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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  1. Shirley says:

    I am in tears.


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