Chapter 44 – Psanter (פסנתר )(piano) – April 2021
The baby grand piano sat in the large family room at the DiNozzo house. Occasionally Tony or Ziva sat down and played a bit, but with four kids in the house, time was a precious commodity. Tali loved to watch her Abba play the piano, often sitting next to him on the bench. She watched his hands glide over the keys.
Neither parent was surprised when Tali started playing one finger tunes on the keys; she often imitated a common melody or tune with a few tries to get it correct. Tony showed her how to play "Chopsticks" and then both parts of "Heart and Soul." She learned the music quickly.
When Ziva suggested the possibility of piano lessons for Tali, Tony had hemmed and hawed. While he did enjoy that he could play, he also remembered his own experiences with piano lessons. He especially remembered sitting at the piano in his parents' New York home crying at being forced to practice. He did not want Tali's interest in the piano to turn into that.
After a month or so of back and forth and discussion with Ziva, they put the option on the table for their almost seven year old. She could take piano lessons if she chose, but if she did decide to do the lesson, she also had to commit to practice. When the girl enthusiastically responded positively, Ziva searched for a suitable teacher for the child.
She found a retired music teacher nearby, who was in fact also on Tali's school bus route. Mrs. Pearsall taught elementary school music for thirty years before retiring from the public school system in Alexandria. She and Tali hit it off immediately. The first lesson started in the last week of April. Ziva drove Tali to the teacher's house on a Saturday morning while Tony stayed home with the three younger kids. She waited in the woman's living room while Tali had her first thirty minute lesson.
"She's a natural, Ziva," Mrs. Pearsall came out with Tali at the end of the lesson. "She also told me that you and her father play?"
"Yes, we both had lessons as children. My husband gets to sit at the keyboard more often than I do, but yes we do both play," Ziva replied. "Our piano is one he has owned for a long time."
Mother and daughter prepared to head home.
"Thank you, Mrs. Pearsall," Tali smiled at the older woman. "I will practice and see you next week!" She waved as they walked to Ziva's minivan.
Tali continued with Saturday lessons through the summer. She practiced faithfully and even showed Anthony what she was learning. When school began again in the fall, Ziva scheduled Tali's lessons for after school. Tali rode the bus to her piano teacher's house on Thursday afternoon and when her lesson ended, either Ziva or Tony picked her up.
She continued with lessons all through her second grade year and performed at the recital of all of Mrs. Pearsall's students in May. She was one of three students who continued lessons in the summer months, eagerly awaiting the weekly session. By the time she was in the fifth grade, lessons were scheduled for one hour per session twice a week. In her sixth and seventh grade years, Anthony also took lessons for thirty minutes once per week. He decided that he would rather play intramural basketball and piano lessons fell by the wayside in his fifth grade year.
Tali continued to play and learn from the old music teacher. At the end of her eighth grade year, with the urging and encouragement of her teacher, Tali entered a competition for middle school aged musicians in April 2028. She practiced daily and the day of was a nervous wreck.
"Ima, I'm gonna mess it up," Tali fretted as her mother helped adjust the dress they'd found just for the occasion. "I can't do this."
"Shush, yaldati; you will do fine," Ziva pulled her oldest into a hug. "It is just nerves. Everyone gets a bit nervous when they are performing for an audience."
Tony came into the room to check if they were ready to leave, "You got this kid; Schumann's Kinderszenen is gonna wow the judges. You've practiced and you know the work. You can do it!" He held up a hand palm facing his oldest. She high-fived him and grinned.
"I sure hop so, Abba. Mrs. Pearsall says I am ready, but I don't know…"
"Seven years of lessons, Tals and you run rings around the rest of the students. You got me and Ima outclassed, too." Tony led them to the front door where the other four young DiNozzos were waiting. All were dressed for the occasion; the boys in suits with ties and the two younger girls in dresses.
At the Arts Center, Tony found a parking spot in the area reserved for the contestants. He parked close to the rear entrance where Tali would go inside; the others were to walk around to the main entrance.
Tali nervously stepped onto the sidewalk. Ziva gave her daughter a quick hug. "You got this yaldati," she whispered in Tali's ear in Hebrew.
Anthony, Rivka, and Beth gave their sister thumbs' up gestures as Anthony commented, "Give it your best shot, Tali."
LJ grabbed his big sister in a bear hug, "You are gonna win; I KNOW it. You are the best Tali, no matter what happens I love you."
She ruffled his hair, "Thanks, kid. Love you too." She turned to the stairs into the back entrance and grinned at her family. She tried to quiet the butterflies in her stomach as she took a deep breath and placed a foot on the lowest step. She turned to look back at her family once more and noticed her Grandpa coming to join them. He called out to her so she paused to wait for him to get to the steps.
"Hey, kiddo," he pulled her into a hug.
"I'm nervous, Grandpa. I'm really scared that I'm going to mess up," she confided.
Gibbs moved her so she could see his eyes, "Tali, you got this. Remember what I told you about fear?" She nodded as he continued, "Never let fear dictate who you are or what you do. You KNOW the piece you've chosen. Go give 'em your best, kiddo."
"Thanks, Grandpa," she hugged the old man again and smiled.
Inside, while Tali waited backstage with the nine other contestants, the family found seats near the center front. Backstage, the contestants were assigned a number for the order in which they would perform. Tali drew number nine.
Once the order was established the names appeared on the digital screen to the side of the stage. Anthony noticed the listing first and pointed it out to the others. Ziva tried not to worry for her baby, but she knew that being the penultimate performer had to be worrying Tali.
The hostess for the afternoon stepped up to the microphone, "Welcome to the annual piano competition, division two, for ages ten to thirteen. We have ten young musicians lined up to play for you tonight. They've drawn numbers and the order in which they will perform is on the screen to my left. We ask that you refrain from applause until the performer stands at the end of his or her piece. Also, if you plan to take pictures, please make sure the flash is OFF out of courtesy to the young performers. Sit back and enjoy. I know these young people have practiced long hours and are ready to give their best.
"First up…" she gave the name of the young boy who had drawn number one and the name of the work he would play. The audience grew quiet and listened to his performance, applauding after the final notes.
Finally, it was Tali's turn. "The next performer is Talia DiNozzo, age thirteen. Talia is a student of Mildred Pearsall; she has been studying for seven years. Her chosen work is Robert Schumann's Kinderszenen." The hostess nodded to Tali as she took her place at the keyboard. Tali took a deep breath in and closed her eyes to focus. She placed her hands on the keyboard and began playing. Within the first few bars, she was immersed in the performance of the work as practiced. She focused all her attention on the keyboard ignoring the hundred or so people in the audience and the three judges sitting to the immediate right of the stage.
Mrs. Pearsall sat at the end of the row of family with tears in her eyes. "She really does have a gift," the woman whispered to Gibbs. He nodded; he was so proud of his first-born grandchild.
Tali finished and stood up from the piano bench. She turned to the judges and bowed; then towards the audience and repeated the bow to applause from all. LJ clapped enthusiastically, commenting to the people behind him that she was his sister. Tony and Ziva grinned as Tali made eye contact with her parents. Tony gave a thumbs' up as Ziva signed 'I love you.'
The final contestant played her piece. As the judges tallied scores, the ten young pianists were brought out on stage to await the results. Each of them was introduced again and given a bouquet of roses. The head judge climbed the steps to the stage.
"Ladies and gentlemen; we have a winner," he announced. He waited for the crowd to settle down and addressed the contestants. "You all did well; we had many wonderful performances this afternoon. While it was not an easy decision, we did tally points for a clear winner.
"In third place, Joseph Reilly," he announced as the young boy stepped forward. "Your inspired rendition of Liszt was very well interpreted. I present you with this check for one hundred dollars, and an invitation to next year's competition, no audition necessary."
The boy turned to have his picture taken with the judge as the audience applauded. He was directed to the side by the hostess.
"In second place, Talia DiNozzo," Tali drew her hands up to her face and gasped. Ziva and Tony high-fived as Anthony, Rivka, Beth, and LJ clapped with everything they had.
"That was a beautifully rendered interpretation of Schumann," the judge shook Tali's hand and smiled at her. Tony was taking pictures with his phone nonstop. "I present you with this check for three hundred fifty dollars and an invitation to next year's competition, no audition necessary. I believe for you, it will be division three, ages fourteen to eighteen."
Tali grinned and thanked the judge; Tony, Ziva, and Anthony were taking pictures as the other family members applauded. Mrs. Pearsall had tears streaming down her cheeks.
The first place winner was announced; then all three winners were gathered together with the judges for publicity photos for the Arts Center newsletter and the local news media. Tali grinned a full on DiNozzo grin the whole time. When she was finally released to go to her family, she made a beeline for her parents.
Tony pulled his baby into a hug, "I am so proud of you, Tali-T. You did it! Wow, second place…" He let her go as Ziva wrapped the teen in her arms.
"Mazal tov, yaldati. Ani ohevet otach," Ziva was so proud of her first born.
Tali pulled away from her Ima as Mrs. Pearsall approached. She hugged her teacher and whispered, "Thank you."
"No, thank YOU, Tali," the old woman replied. "You are the one who did all the work."