Our 5.4-year-old little guy took part in a regional music competition the other day. People who know him will not be surprised that he stood out.

Eric and his piano teacher chose a piece to perform that he mastered about a month ago. We figured any difficulties would come from the performance etiquette aspects of the show rather than the music, so over time we practised pre- and post-playing behaviours. In the end, an unexpected factor complicated things.

The event was held inside a local church. We arrived ten minutes early to watch the previous block of competitors. A baby-grand piano at the front, four small competitors sitting in the first row pews, an ‘adjudicator’ at a table midway back in the aisle, and then way, way at the back, families and spectators. The whole environment is sterile: no phones, no cameras, no talking. A kid is called, takes his turn with 10-60 seconds of music, and sits back down up front. The adjudicator writes notes on a sheet of paper, and writes, and writes, in silence. A few minutes go by. The next kid is called. Repeat. Wow.

Well, sitting quietly is not one of Eric’s fortes. He hardly goes to school (and we’re still not sure whether he’ll join the normal grade-1 stream next fall), and we haven’t tried hard to turn him into a sit-still-and-quiet robot at home either. His patience has developed well, but his expressions of boredom have not been repressed. So, we figured that the mere act of waiting silently and calmly for twenty minutes would be difficult. But it was still worth the try, since his music is beyond normal for his years.

Finally it was his group’s turn. He went up with his thick score book, took his place. There was a long delay at the beginning, where the staff were conversing with the kids about who would need a booster-bench. Eric declined, but wanted to know whether his instrument was to be a grand piano, a baby grand piano, or something in between. I don’t think they humored him with an answer. A minute later, finally it was time to start.

The first little girl went up and performed. Eric sat and listened. The little girl sat down, and the writing began. Right away, Eric stood up, asked “Is it my turn?”, and thus broke protocol. The judge lady nicely asked him to wait, so wait he did. There was a rather loud yawn heard throughout the hall, but we can’t be entirely certain that Eric was its emitter.

Finally, it was Eric’s turn. He announced, with a clear and loud voice, his name and the name of the piece he was about to play. Off he went. It started well. Near the middle, Eric realized that he was playing on a physical piano instead of our Korg M3-88 at home, and that this was rather cool. So during the last half, he continued to play the music, but half-stood up, and peeked over the piano’s face onto the strings and hammers. As he played & peeked, his tempo had become a bit sloppy. The music seemed to distract him from his new purpose: to study the piano mechanism. The crowd started whispering; a few seconds later, there was friendly laughter throughout the room. They all broke protocol!

Eric was done, and everyone clapped. Eric moved toward his seat up front, then took a detour. He walked up to the adjudicator lady about to start marking him, got right up, and asked “What mistakes were there? Did I make any mistakes?”. The lady was taken aback, but still in a friendly way asked him to go back and wait, as she still had to write down. Some more friendly snickers in the crowd, though some made goofy bewildered “can you believe that?” faces. Eric sighed, and got back to his seat. Two more kids to go.

Eric paid attention to when they were playing. The rest of the time, he was overtly bored of just sitting there. He got on his knees, turned around, and spied upon the audience. He reclined (not to the extent of bothering his peers, only to confound them). He looked all around. There may have been a few more yawns. With no recordings, one can’t be sure.

But one can be sure that once all competitors played, and the final round of note-writing concluded, the adjudicator lady went up front to talk to all the kids. She asked whether this was their first time playing to the public; whether they enjoyed the performance. She offered a sentence or two about each performance as per what was good and what to improve upon. Then the award ribbons were about to go out.

“Did I get a tie?” asked Eric, before the lady started handing them out. “Yes.”, she answered, as she handed “tied for third place” ribbons to Eric and another kid. Eric asked “Why did I get a tie?”, not apparently realizing the ranking aspect, just the fact of equal results as someone else. “It just turned out that way” was the answer, as the other ribbons were quickly handed out. More snickers and a few more goofy faces from the audience. A few seconds later, it was over. Time to pick up the score books and head on out. Eric asked for help from one of the staff to tie his shoe laces, which they did, after another moment’s reluctance. Juimiin rescued the boy from any further complications.

He broke the ice in that room that day. His only victim was decorum. He cared not a whit about his actual ranking. He is such a genuine little boy. And we love him just that way.