Tempo Giusto

Write about an experience which changed your views on something. Common application essay prompt – 2016

I glared at the plastic contraption before me and tried one last time to summon any telekinesis powers.

Nope. Nothing. The device’s arm stubbornly oscillated at a regular pace, like a mocking tongue across a palate. I sighed dejectedly and shut the piano’s cover. At seven, I was partial to the dramatic.

The Metronome. Causer of anguish from the day it arrived from the Jumeirah Centre. It first coldly informed me that my playing was too fast and erratic, lagging obstinately behind. Later, it declared that I wasn’t playing fast enough; my notes were falling over themselves, struggling to keep up. It paid no heed to my attempts to will it to match my fingers, and my teachers’ faces grew longer the more I practiced.

The word ‘Gifted’ is thrown around unsparingly amongst the Indian diaspora. Seeing the remotest competence in a child, adults are quick to brand them as one of God’s chosen and immediately set them to work, lest the world should lose out on such prodigious talent.

That unforgiving object spared no punches in proclaiming that I lacked such talents and that pursuing music was therefore futile. I had seen Gifts firsthand; when certain older students performed at the Embassy Concerts, they weren’t just playing.They were delivering pieces of musical tradition to the audience and inviting them to marvel. They were never bogged down with the technicalities of beat regularity. I became increasingly frustrated; had I done anything in previous lives to condemn me to this state of un-Giftedness? Which of the 330 million Hindu deities allotted Gift quotas? What exactly was their reasoning behind allowing such glaring disparities in Giftedness levels?

In one of my fits of angst, I started to explore the metronome mechanism. The device was completely analog and therefore alien and fascinating. I spent half an hour fiddling; I observed how winding the key shifted a gear and compressed a spring. Sliding the weight adjusted the speed at which the lower end of the arm oscillated past the teeth of the primary gear, making a click every time it struck a tooth.

Somewhere, I had a lightbulb – or perhaps flickering-to-life tube light – moment. I had taken apart what I had built up to be the vessel of my fury and found absolutely no hint of an animus. This was nothing but an inanimate tool, whose sole purpose was to help me to identify my mistakes in my endeavor to improve.

Later, I sat down on the piano stool and instead of willing the metronome to keep up with me, I set to a slower tempo and practiced from there. I took its admonitions with, if not appreciation, acceptance. And quite magically, my teachers’ faces grew shorter and shorter, as did mine. I thought of my metronome in quite unexpected situations – and gradually realized that there was so much beyond ‘Giftedness’.

My loss of a debate in class wasn’t brutal disclosure of my lack of speaking Gifts; it was an opportunity to appreciate and to learn from the winners. Struggling with an orchestra piece wasn’t a cue to self-indulgently ponder why others had cartilage structures more suited to playing the flute; it was a message that I needed to practice third-octave runs. I took everything as a lesson and focused on my process of improvement. As I moved up through the music ensemble ranks at my school, I eagerly took notes from everyone. I even joined activities where my lack of Giftedness was more than apparent, like Yoga and Dance, and enjoyed them immensely.

With everything I did, I challenged the idea that Giftedness was purely innate, and that endeavors were worthless unless you were bestowed with it. It’s bizarre to attribute so much to a plastic object, but it taught me something valuable – those who succeed and thrive have simply been scolded by their metronomes countless times.

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