‘Before Crowned Heads’ by Dean Doner

Before Crowned Heads by Dean Doner, 1957

The magic trick:

Demonstrating a child’s lesson learned through a moment of misinterpretation and embarrassment

We wrap up our three-day tour of South Dakota with Dean Doner today with his first New Yorker story, “Before Crowned Heads.”

Our protagonist begins to take pride in his piano lessons. Other students have moved away from this demanding teacher, new in town from Europe. He has remained on, feeling he has a certain bond with her through some kind of shared deep appreciation for music.

If it seems a little preposterous, don’t worry, the story thinks so too. It soon becomes a coming-of-age tale through embarrassing overreach.

And that’s quite a trick on Doner’s part.

The selection:

I would defend Mrs. Schleswig hotly, though at my age I must have sounded ridiculously pompous as I parroted her favorite maxims. I don’t know why, but I had thrived under her training. Not that I was making phenomenal strides – my ability seemed to be only average or very little better – but I worked hard and promised to become a competent player. Above all, I responded to that ideal of perfection which she pressed upon all her pupils. I did not want to play well by professional standards; I wanted to play well by real standards – by the standards of the Edition Peters of Leipzig, and of crowned heads.

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