The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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June 19, 2024

How playing the piano helped me find myself

I+remember+learning+scales%2C+with+Grammie%E2%80%99s+delicate+hands+guiding+mine.+Even+though+we+always+had+a+slight+language+barrier+%E2%80%94+my+Chinese+was+mediocre+at+best+%E2%80%94+we+understood+each+other+through+clefs+and+measures+on+the+sheet+music+she+gave+me.
I remember learning scales, with Grammie’s delicate hands guiding mine. Even though we always had a slight language barrier — my Chinese was mediocre at best — we understood each other through clefs and measures on the sheet music she gave me.

As soon as I heard the ring of the school bell on a Wednesday afternoon, I raced to the cubby corner of my classroom, snagged my backpack and waited impatiently at the door for my teacher to dismiss me. When she finally announced that I was free to leave, I sprinted down the hall and burst out of the doors, frantically scanning the car line in search of my mom’s distinctively robin-egg-blue Toyota. 

When she finally pulled to the front of the line, the fifth-grade patrols opened the car door for me and I scrambled in, hastily buckling my seatbelt. My little brother was already tucked into his booster seat.

“Ready to go?” my mother asked. I nodded, swinging my feet in excitement, even though I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming hour-long car ride in traffic to Virginia. 

My grandmother is a Taiwanese immigrant who came to America in 1983. “Grammie,” as I call her, grew up as the youngest girl in a household of nine people. Her mother loved music and wanted all seven of her children to play piano and as a result, music always filled the house. Grammie’s love of music carried into her career, and she studied music at a university in Taiwan and began to teach there as she started her family.

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When she moved to America, she continued to teach piano as a career. While her husband, my grandfather, constantly traveled between America and Taiwan, she found a job in her passion for music. She provided piano lessons to her friends’ children and also taught her kids, Tim and Annie, how to play. 

When my mom had me, she continued the tradition and taught me how to play as soon as my small fingers could press the keys. The first song I played on the piano was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when I was three years old. We lived in California for the first four years of my life, where my mother mostly taught me, but in 2012, we moved to Maryland and Grammie started giving me lessons. 

Those lessons with my grandmother would become the highlight of my week. Each Wednesday after school, I would sprint to the car as fast as my little legs could carry me so we could get a jumpstart on the drive to Virginia. 

I remember learning scales, with Grammie’s delicate hands guiding mine. Even though we always had a slight language barrier — my Chinese was mediocre at best — we understood each other through clefs and measures on the sheet music she gave me. I played traditional Chinese songs like “Liang Zhi Lao Hu” and “Mo Li Hua,” and even some American nursery songs. 

In second grade, I began attending Chinese school on Sundays, where I always felt out of place. As a child, I was acutely aware that I didn’t look traditionally Taiwanese, with my brown skin and big brown eyes. I felt insecure and trapped in my outer appearance when people told me I didn’t look anything like my mother or were shocked when I could speak Chinese. When I went to Chinese school, I got weird looks from kids and adults. I have never felt smaller in my life.

However, through teaching me music, Grammie helped me become more engrossed in my Taiwanese culture without alienating me because of my appearance. I began to pick up more Chinese and became more comfortable speaking it with her, and we often practiced during shared hotpot dinners after lessons. When our time at Grammie’s was over, I always hugged her tightly and yelled “Wo ai ni!” which means “I love you” in Chinese. 

Practicing at home also brought me closer to my mother. She helped refine my piano-playing skills, educating me on rhythm and reading music. We also worked on my Chinese-speaking skills together so I could better communicate with Grammie.

My lessons with Grammie made me forget how self-conscious I was about my cultural identity and taught me that my appearance isn’t everything. On the inside, I was Taiwanese through and through, and others’ microaggressions and confusion couldn’t take that away from me.

Thanks to Grammie, my mom and the piano, I learned to embrace my Taiwanese identity and accept my culture, even if I didn’t look the part. 

As I grew older, I found less and less time for lessons and eventually stopped playing altogether when I started to take my sport more seriously. These days, I rarely have time to practice piano or other instruments, only playing on the weekends or with my friends. Still, I hold those memories close to my heart as a reminder that I am not limited to my appearance.

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  • H

    Hero AlimchandaniJul 9, 2024 at 10:59 am

    Amazing article, Asha!! Best regards from Rishi’s family.

    Reply
  • P

    Pauline hyvarinenJun 17, 2024 at 2:03 pm

    You cannot tell a book by its cover!

    Reply