“Hey, you want to chill at my place after school?”

“Sorry, can’t, piano class.”

Chances are that you’ve heard this exchange before. If you just happen to be Asian, you’ve probably said it countless times.

Nowadays, being Asian is synonymous with taking an instrument on the side, most commonly the piano. It’s become yet another characteristic of the ever-evolving stereotype, along with such endearments as “Asians are good at math”, “Asians are cheap”, and “Asians can’t drive”. In fact, it’s become so prevalent that RCM examiners are surprised if you walk into the exam room as a person of some other race.

And, like all the others, it’s a good thing. Learning an instrument takes diligence, patience, and brainwork. Even if you’re forced into it, the benefits manifest themselves: you find that an hour of practice isn’t as tedious after all, that wrong notes don’t piss you off as much, and that you start getting better at it. Your parents were right (as usual, you note) — it’s good for you.

You still probably hate it, though. Ugh, you think, this Classical thing is so out of date. Your thinking does bear some truth: piano isn’t for everyone. Maybe that’s why, soon as you passed your grade 8 and got that credit, you quit. On the bright side, you can now play simple (they’re all simple) covers of crappy pop songs without difficulty.

Or maybe not. Maybe something stirred within you during those long, arduous years. You caught a fleeting moment of the perfect sound, perhaps; an illusory paradise contained within a phrase, a bar, or even a note. You felt a little rush inside, and your fingertips tingled. It was like the TTC hitting 60 km/h: beautiful, but completely unexpected. It made you pause for a moment. You thought back. You marveled at it. You began to appreciate what you had done, and more importantly, what the composer had done.  You tried it again. You failed, but that didn’t stop you. You’re such a trooper.

Ever since that day, you saw that fixture in your living room in a different light. It didn’t seem as repulsive as before, but rather… beautiful? No, that’s not it. More inviting, certainly, and more organic, as if it were alive.

You received your mark. You passed, and your parents didn’t care anymore. They ask you if you want to quit piano. You know that Alex in math class is now free to chill on Saturdays. You hesitate.

“No. I want to play.”

Of course you do. You’re a piano kid.