10 Gifts

The 10 Gifts I have learned…

I walked into the piano studio, the aromatic scents of Persian rice and fresh roses permeating into the room, and little did I know at the time that my life was about to be changed forever. I started taking piano lessons with Shilla at six years old. Soon after, her house became my second home, and consequently, Shilla became a second mother to me.  Under her patient and sage instruction, I learned more life lessons than in any other place, by any other person.  Today is an opportunity for me to thank Shilla for changing my life, and helping to shape the person I am today.  I could go on and on for days about Shilla’s incredible contributions to my life; however, since I only have a few minutes, I have decided to relay the 10 most important gifts that Shilla gave to me, the lessons I learned from my piano lessons with her that I have since applied to every aspect of my life:

  1. Be confident.  Whatever situation you find yourself in, walk with you head up high and act the part.  Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you too.  Make sure your voice is heard.  Shilla always said, “make sure you have your audiences attention.  Don’t start until you are ready, and really own what you are playing.  Make the music yours.”
  2. Persevere.  Don’t ever give up.  We all have discouraging moments, but even when you feel like quitting, find a way to get inspired all over again.  Remember what initially motivated you, and find a new goal to work towards.  When there’s a will, there’s a way, and nothing is impossible, as long as you put your all into accomplishing your dreams.
  3. Be prepared.  Whether it is making sure you have music when you need it, dressing properly, or putting in the time and energy into practicing, preparation is the foundation to success.  Of course some lessons you have to learn the hard way:  There was the time when I didn’t practice the piece I was going to perform with the dress I was going to wear, and mid-way through the actual performance, my strap started coming off, and the times when I didn’t practice enough and I forgot the notes of a piece, or the countless unforgettable memories of getting lost en route on the way to a competition or performance because my mom and I (with our terrible sense of direction) did not have good directions The truth of the matter is that it’s important to do everything you can to be ready for life’s opportunities. Whatever twists and turns might present themselves on the path, be prepared to improvise in ways you never planned for.
  4. Smile.  Several judges of competitions I have competed in and countless audience members have commented to me on how wonderful it was to see me smiling on stage, truly enjoying the experience.  Now, believe me when I say that there were many times when I was disappointed in my playing that I did not feel like smiling. But from Shilla, I have learned the importance of stage presence.  There is so much more to a piano performance than just playing the piece.  Whether or not you play the piece well, the way you present yourself, and the way you connect with the audience can be equally significant.
  5. Be a good listener.  Listen to what you are playing, and to what others are playing and appreciate the many interpretations that there can be in a single piece of music.
  6. Take risks.  Don’t be afraid to learn that 12 page piece with 6 sharps and 3 flats. Don’t shy away from a competition because you know the other competitors are talented or more experienced.  If you want to learn a particular piece of music, go out, buy it and start practicing.  Take risks, and make your goal happen.
  7. Keep a sense of humor.  Learn to laugh at your mistakes and keep things in perspective.
  8. Play from the heart.  Follow your passion.  It is more important to play with true and genuine feeling than to hit all the right notes.  The beauty of music is its ability to communicate universally.  The most rewarding experience in playing an instrument is finding yourself within a piece of music and truly playing it from your heart.  Likewise, follow your heart and passion in all of life’s endeavors.
  9. Remember that life is not about winning.  Sheila always stressed to me that no matter what a few judges determined about my ability as a pianist, I was already a winner.  Hours and hours of practicing are judged in a few short minutes of performance.  It is therefore the personal sense of accomplishment that is most rewarding and noteworthy:  All that matters is that your try your hardest.  Learn to enjoy the journey and the process.  Titles and awards are trivial in the grand scheme of things, and although it feels good and to be recognized, life is about the process, the lessons, the people and your own sense of self and achievement.
  10. Be grateful.  Always remember how you got to where you are and the help you had along the way.

I can honestly say that I don’t know where or who I would be today without Shilla in my life.  As I move forward and continue my journey, I am so envious of all of you here today, who have just begun to study with Shilla. Whether or not music will become ultimately your path in life take advantage of all Shilla has to offer.

Shilla, You have been my greatest mentor throughout the years and I am forever grateful to you for your patience, instruction, motivation, encouragement, support and most importantly, your love.  You have always been there for me no matter the distance, no matter the time, I could always count on you.  The respect and admiration I have for you is unmatchable.  You are a role model and inspiration to us all, and I am so fortunate to have you in my life.  Thank you for everything.

I love you with all my heart.


Michelle Alpert