Except for Sunday, which is the Lord's day, mornings are lessons. Every day the same. Lessons are in the room downstairs, where other girls take theirs. The other girls, that is, the ones who pay. She waits for him like anyone else in the corner of the stairhead room, a pupil waiting for her teacher. Which she is. He is. Now. There must have been a time when music, staved and stuck to the page, was something unfamiliar. It stands to reason. No one begins with the page. Yet these seed-pod heads, their sticks and legs, attenuated hairpins and crack-backed rests have always been there, strewn on tables and piled in corners, scattered on the music stand where mother, oozing when her babies cried in other rooms, gave in and fed them where she sat at the keys. Falling ringlets of stave brackets, the arcs and bows of phrasings, time signatures, random confettis of sharps, flats and naturals seemed always to have been comprehensible; stair runs of semiquavers, no matter how dense, more loaded with meaning than any alphabet. It's how things are, have always been.
So is the room in which one waits: familiar, unchanging, known down to the chips in the painted window ledge. An empty vase, two candlesticks, a wooden box stuck over with shells, an ornamental porcelain in the shape of a dancing shoe are the only other things to see: the same five things on the mantelshelf. And every week, it seems, she wonders the same five things about them: who it was that paid money for the useless shoe; why no one misses the vase for flowers; where the shells have come from, what they are when they're not stuck to a box, if it's true they're skeletons that once held their animals inside. Just as she reflects there is nothing interesting whatsoever about candlesticks, there he is. Punctual. Watching his watch to prove it. The Mind and the Tree, Clara, he says, opening the door for her to come in. What do they have in common? She doesn't know. They bend, he whispers. They bend. She looks intently when he tells her here is a new language to learn. French as well as mother tongue, Italian too -- she will not believe how much Italian. And, of course, singing. Clara, the child who almost never speaks, tries to think about language, singing. Mother. Tongue. The two words come easily together for her. She sees how they fit. Her eyes meet his and lock there, saying it. She understands.
So. Lessons. Practice. Handwriting and study of theory.
Sometimes in the evenings there are house concerts.
She may listen, she may watch, she may sit. Sometimes she may just sit, restraining her extremities as a matter of course. A musician must learn to sit still and expressionless, waiting his or her turn. Grimaces are the province of hopeless amateurs. This is a lesson too. Everything, it seems, is lessons. Aphorisms. Notes. Sit still and watch. These are the materials of all learning.
Duty is the Highest Happiness.
Little and Often is the Surest Way.
Play always as if you played for a Master.
Trust God and your Teacher.
The Mind and the Tree etc.
Sometimes lessons were immediately recognisable and open; other times it came about by a kind of stealth. Things that did not seem to be lessons at all at first, would turn out to have a Moral, a Serious Test of Diligence concealed within -- a sudden fall or a carriage ride, the apparently unearned offer of a sweet -- but Papa was always watching, assessing, noting whether Clara behaved as he would wish. As her Best Self would wish. The mark of the Finest Teacher, he said, is that he Keenly Observes, and he does it a lot. Somewhere in the middle of these early lessons, then, when the talent to observe had become something named and something deliberately to refine, it happened. Something in detail and through the fingers first. An icy bloom under her palm never fails to bring it back, entire: the sensation of looking down from somewhere dizzy. The feeling that at any moment, without warning, she might fall.
From Clara by Janice Galloway, published by Jonathan Cape. Reprinted by kind permission of The Random House Group Limited.