A couple of months ago, Rocky and I were strolling by Coke Corner at Disneyland when we heard the sweet sound of piano keys being slayed by one of Disney’s Ragtime Piano Players. We grabbed some food and plopped ourselves down near the piano for a listen. The pianist’s name, we discovered, was Alan Thompson, Jr. He is the youngest of the piano men there and the one who would make the biggest impression on my 6 year-old. Not only did the kid admire the dexterity and quickness with which Alan pounded those notes, he was really moved that Alan noticed him watching and came over to our table for a quick chat. A few words were exchanged about Rocky’s abilities, some “piano talk” if you will. When offered a chance to play, however, he shied away. He has played recitals before, but that is different because they were planned and his audience consisted of his usual entourage of relatives. Here he would have to play an impromptu song for strangers. I could tell he wanted to do it but just froze and was disappointed in himself. His new friend reassured him that stage fright is common, even he still gets nervous sometimes. He took it all in and ended up setting a goal for himself to do it before our park passes (big thanks to Rocky’s grandpa for these!) run out.
Later he wrote about his encounter in his school journal:
“Last thrsday I went do disnyland. There I met a piano player. He was grat at the piano! He said he had been playing for 17 years! I have only been playing for 2 and a half years! His name was Alan. He even gave me a free demo cd of the songs he plays! I like Alan!”
We returned to Coke Corner several times after that and we met some other great pianists there. Ragtime Michael took many of his requests and Ragtime Robert gave us his card. But it was Alan’s style he liked best. It took us a bit of time to figure out when our favorite player could be found again but we finally discovered him by the piano one day and Rocky got to deliver the thank you note and picture he’d been carrying to the park each time. Best of all, he overcame his fear and tickled the ivories of the Disneyland piano. Since they last met, Rocky had learned a bit of one of the most famous songs of ragtime – Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer. You can see by the sheer joy on his face at the end of the video that he was very excited to perform on that piano and meet his goal.
Later that weekend he would go on to play the song again at his school’s variety show, something he signed on to do with little coaxing from anyone else. He was comfortable and didn’t seem the least bit nervous or distracted. He really enjoyed the experience and all the kudos he received from fellow students and teachers. This is important because I know of at least one other child who played only to please his mother and wasn’t having any fun. (I do not want to be that mother who forces him.) Rocky was happy to report that even though there were mistakes, he thought he covered them successfully.
Thanks to his newfound confidence, a wonderful music teacher, a supportive family and a little encouragement from a fellow pianist, my Jedi Musician is now one step closer to becoming a full-fledged performer on his own terms. It’s only a matter of time before he starts to introduce some of the wonderful original music he’s been creating to a bigger audience. I can’t wait to see where he goes next. We are blessed!