By Osa Mbonu
Since The Piano Teacher temporarily went off the radar, I have been inundated with calls, text messages, and e-mails from those who have been following it since it debuted some months ago.
They wanted to know when the next episode will be published, or whether the column has been rested. One avid reader begged me to conclude the story of Mr. & Mrs. Onuoha, even if I have decided to suspend it.
The readers of a writer are the most important people in his trade because the worst tragedy that can befall a writer is not to be read; and for a columnist, writer, or journalist who writes for a newspaper, the most lamentable is for readers of the paper to “waka pass” your page. I am only trying to tell my fans how much I love and value them; that I can do anything for them as long as it is within my powers.
I wrote the last episode, “Another Day for The Piano Teacher” while I was on a sick bed. I had battled with the temptation to forgo The Piano Teacher that week but when I remembered that my fans were always looking forward to the next episode, I gritted my teeth and wrote it.
It was not a perfect piece, but the absence of the column that week would have been a disappointment to them.
Some had also insinuated that The Piano Teacher had been rested due to the problem of sustainability. They could not see how a column titled The Piano Teacher could be sustained. Unknown to those critics, the issue of sustainability had been addressed even before the first episode was published on March 11, 2018.
After I had made the proposal to the Sunday Editor and submitted that first episode titled “Encounter with Prof. Joshua Uzoigwe, exponent of African Pianism” the editor said: “The Piano Teacher? Do you play the piano?”
“Yes sir,” I said.
“Let me see your fingers.”
I stretched out the 10 fingers of my two hands before him. He inspected them and nodded his head. I must one day interview the editor to tell us how it was possible to know the fingers that play the piano when those fingers were not on duty.
The editor then asked me the question, “Are you sure you can sustain it?” and I said, “Yes sir.”
He published the first episode, and since then, I have published more than 27 episodes of The Piano Teacher, and yet, I have not reached where the meat of the story is. All I have done so far was to sketch a background for the main story. The story of The Piano Teacher will not end until the piano teacher dies. But even at this introductory chapter, the letters my fans send to me regularly bring tears to my eyes:
One Mrs. Makinde startled me once with her compelling prose in her review of one edition of The Piano Teacher. She sent me this mail on 26 August 2018 at 12:41PM, which read in part:
Dear Mr. Amadi,
I read your column in Sunday Vanguard every week. In fact, l have been transfixed by the stories. Well done Sirý. I would love to buy your book.
On September 30, 2018 at 4:36 PM, Mrs. Makinde sent me another e-mail titled “You are a master storyteller”:
YOU ARE A MASTER STORYTELLER
Mr. Amadi: another great piece of writing today: then you ended on a note of suspense: l can’t wait for next Sunday. It is refreshing to read well written sentences in a Nigerian newspaper….
Thank you for making Sunday papers a bit more interesting.
It is people like Mrs. Makinde that make me push back my infirmities and pick up my creative gauntlet.
There are many other messages like that. Because most of them came via SMS, I can no longer retrieve them. But I can remember another outstanding message in which the sender told me that the first time he saw the title, The Piano Teacher, he had felt it was going to be boring and wondered what I was going to be writing every week about the piano. But now, he confessed, he has become addicted to the column and always feel disappointed whenever it was not published.
Now, that brings me to the vision behind The Piano Teacher. I had conceived it as John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera, written in 1728 with music arranged by Johann ChristophPepusch. Before the Beggar’s Opera came, the themes of operas (also called music drama) written by big names in classical music composition were aristocratic. They discussed issues and mirrored the life of the rich. The masses did not identify, or connect with the type of life they saw in such elitist operas. As a result, theaters were largely empty of audiences, except for few men and women from upper social ladders who came to idle away their time, and that was not good business for theater owners.
When the Beggar’s Opera hit the stand showing as its theme the life of ordinary people on the streets, it instantly connected with the masses, drawing crowds to the theater.
I wanted the column to tell the story of the sufferings of a man who earned his living with the piano. Unfortunately, the piano and the classical music it was built to play were almost exclusively owned and pursued by the rich. Thus, the story of The Piano Teacher inevitably became intertwined with the story of many rich people he encountered as a piano teacher. The Bible says it is better to visit where people are mourning than to visit where people are partying, for we learn more from a place of mourning than from a place of merriment.
I recall another fan who wrote me and said he wept after reading the story of my life as a teacher in that primary school inside Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, where my pupils had to donate crumbs of biscuits to me.
The Piano Teacher humbles haughty people. It teaches those who read it that human beings have the capacity to overcome hardships and rise to the top. It exposes the vulgarity and miserly life of many people who call themselves rich men and women.
I will see you next week, by God’s Grace, to perhaps conclude the story of Mr. & Mrs. Onuoha. Remember the story is still at Ojo Police station, from where all the suspects and recovered exhibits were moved to the Police Commissioner’s office, Ikeja.
Welcome to 2019. It is a year in which I have decided, by God’s grace, to increase my value. I pray you do so too.