Piano lessons were a huge part of my childhood, like many Asian-Canadians of my generation. Beginning at around age four, weekly lessons became torture sessions due to our prototypical scary old piano teacher who shall be called Mrs. T. Mrs. T. seemed like she was 100 years old and since I had to wait by myself in her sitting room during my sister's lessons, her house too was a source of fear and mystery. Her ancient perfume and a wooden carved statue of what I now realize was St. Francis of Assisi still haunt my memories.
Music did not become fun until high school when, admittedly, I was a band geek who thrived in concert and jazz bands and choir ensembles. I played the flute, sang alto, and briefly learned the trombone for two months in order fill a vacant third trombone seat. Switching to a fabulous new piano teacher also allowed me to actually enjoy playing the piano. Technique and expressivity never came easy to me; I was not a musical savant and solo public performance was exceedingly anxiety provoking. Ultimately, completing my ARCT Performance Diploma at the dinosaur age of twenty will always be one of my proudest accomplishments, especially because I broke my left pinkie finger four days before my exam and had to defer it one year before finally passing with honours. So traumatizing.
I always credit my early exposure to piano as why I am very fond of fine motor tasks which require dexterity and coordination. The smaller the better, is my motto. Making this birthday cake was ridiculously entertaining and provided great satisfaction. The piano was built from an 8" x 8" x 2" square cake placed on its side with pastillage legs, keyboard, sheet music, and framed portrait of the birthday girl. Because she is a panda fanatic, I decided to have a well-dressed panda as the pianist, constructed from carved Rice Krispie treats and then covered with fondant.
The piano cake concept was adapted from one found in The Essential Guide to Cake Decoration, a good book on basics with cute design ideas. The panda was purely freehand and took almost the entire day to make. I am particularly fond of its carefully formed snout. When I heard that the birthday girl refused to let the panda be eaten, I was secretly relieved. Wouldn't you be?