Billy Brust and the Piano Recital


There was an electric light pole on Main Street in our town that nobody really paid much mind to until fifty-seven year old Mamie Phillips decided to learn how to drive and bent it pretty good, not once, but again the next day.


That’s about the way the kids in our sixth grade class looked upon Billy Brust.  He was present every day but he really didn’t shine at anything, school or baseball or anything much.  He sort of “faded into the wallpaper,” as we used to say.


He didn’t seem to care if everyone in class ignored him.  The teachers were thankful that he didn’t make trouble for them - like asking questions in geography class that they couldn’t answer.


Now, some of us unlucky beings were forced to take piano lessons, sacrificing playtime every Saturday morning to sit on wobbly stools and thump away on an instrument of torture and commanded by a teacher that liked to rap our knuckles.


Somehow we endured it, not knowing that the worst was yet to come – the dreaded piano recital attended by our parents and anyone else they could drag along with them.


A kid could practice day and night on his piece and play it well, but let him perform before an audience and his clammy hands wandered and his vision blackened as if facing the guillotine.   Those of us who were to play were seated in the front two rows of the church, facing the big black instrument with its glaring white keys.  The printed programs listed our names and the numbers we were to play and it was with sinking heart that we noticed just two or three victims were ahead of us.


We held our heads down when the program began so we could show each other our hands for we were counting the number of mistakes each pianist made, a show of fingers for each blooper.  I scored pretty high on that accounting.


After six numbers we checked the program and to our astonishment Billy Burst’s name was number seven.  Did that kid really take piano lessons, when he couldn’t even answer the teacher with more than a husky whisper?  He was a no-show on the playground and skulked to school alone and raced home by himself when the bell rang.  If we were scared witless, how much more scared was Billy?


Billy had his towhead slicked down and his cuffs turned back as he walked up the stairs of the stage.   He paused before the piano, bowed per instructions – and then, so help me Hannah, he walked across the stage, down the three steps, up the aisle and out the doors.


There was some laughter and then embarrassed silence.  The teacher pushed number eight up that stairs and the program continued.


Inside our heads, all of us were cheering wildly as our hearts raced with admiration.  Billy Brust was a hero – he defied authority, he refused to suffer the humiliation of forced piano playing.  He became the talk of the attendees and the hero of every grade schooler.


We heard later that some parents began to listen to their kids when they said, “We’d rather fall over dead than play in a piano recital.”


I was one of three kids who was joyfully pardoned.


Mary Elizabeth Mruzik

Pacific, Missouri