I can barely recall Mrs. Kelly's face. I do think she was fairly old, had grey hair and still lived with her mother, who must have been ancient. But Mrs. Kelly was devoted to her occupation and her students, and I looked forward to our weekly lessons, which I kept up with for many, many years.
I still remember many of Mrs. Kelly's instructions on how to hold my hands (curved over the keys) and the best way to do the fingering as I moved up and down the keyboard practicing scales. I progressed through all the John Thompson song books, some of which I still own and cherish. But the piece of advice I remember the most is one I have taken to heart - and used as a mantra throughout my life. "Make the Melody Sing," she would say, as I hashed out my rendition of some well-known classical standard I had practiced that week.
Make the Melody Sing. Those words have come back to me, again and again, throughout my life. What is the most important thing? What route to I want to follow? What is it I'm trying to do here?
And now, as I hash through words and different renditions of a novel manuscript I'm working on, as I practice and fumble and try to find the best fingering, the correct format, and the right words to make up a story out of thin air, Mrs. Kelly's words spring to mind once again. Make the Melody Sing.
What is it I'm really trying to say? What is the most important thing here? What is the meaning of this story? Because at some point in a novel, maybe half-way through, maybe 3/4 of the way, maybe towards the end, those questions hit you smack in the face and demand to be answered. And when that happens, when I'm searching for the theme of a story, for the thread of an idea that flows from the beginning to the end, and cannot seem to grasp it, I sometimes remember my old piano teacher's word and it really, really helps me.
Make the Melody Sing.
Thank you, Mrs. Kelly, for your sound advice.