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Again, Josefina! is part of the Short Stories collection, focused on Josefina Montoya.


Story Summary[]


Josefina asks for Papá's permission to take piano lessons.

It's a cold evening, shortly after Tía Dolores has come to stay at the rancho; the family is gathered in the family sala around the hearth. Josefina is supposed to be knitting, but she is instead admiring Tía Dolores's piano that she brought with her to the rancho from Mexico City. Tía Dolores notices and asks Josefina if she loves the piano, to which Josefina says yes. Papá, who is repairing a harness, asks Dolores to play and the four girls ask as well. Tía Dolores sits down at the piano and plays a soft sweet song like a lullaby; Josefina, entranced, cannot help from swaying along, and Papá and her sisters all have a dreamy look as Tía Dolores plays, as if the music has cast a spell over them. Josefina watches Tía Dolores play and is filled with longing to make music herself. At the end of the song she bursts out, asking if she could learn to play the piano and if Tía Dolores will teach her. Tía Dolores, pleased, says she'll be glad to teach her--if she has her Papá's permission.

Josefina asks Papá, and he answers slowly, reminding Josefina she has many responsibilities and daily chores--including looking after her young nephew, Antonio, for Ana--and asks her if she'll be able to take lessons and still meet her other responsibilities. Josefina says yes, but Papá does not yet agree and tells her that it's not easy to play the piano and will take time, effort, and patience--and even with all that, not everyone has a gift like Tía Dolores's to play. He asks if she is ready to work very hard--and that if she's not, she'll waste her aunt's time. Josefina promises to do her best and Papá gives his permission and says that it's kind of Tía Dolores to offer to teach Josefina.

Tía Dolores says it will be a pleasure as she's seen how good a student Josefina is from her teaching the girls how to read and write, and Ana adds that Josefina has been the quickest and best student out of all of them. Josefina tries to hide her pleased smile, knowing that Ana's words are true and quite proud of it. Tía Dolores praises the others as good students and asks them if they want to earn the piano, but the others all decline for various reasons. Ana doesn't want to be the center of attention as one is while playing and she would be nervous to have others looking at her; Francisca wouldn't be bothered by the attention but if she was playing at a party she wouldn't be free to dance instead and doesn't find the idea fun; and Clara, practical as always, finds making music to be too impractical with nothing physical to show in the end like weaving does. Tía Dolores tells Josefina that she's her only studen for piano then, and they'll begin lessons tomorrow morning. Josefina is confident, excited and eager to make music just like her aunt.


Josefina finds her first piano lesson with Tía Dolores frustrating.

On her first day, Josefina wonders if all her piano lessons are going to be as long and discouraging as this day. It is not what she imagined and is much harder that she thought it would be. She is asked to play the same ten notes over and over repeatedly--with Tía Dolores saying "again, Josefina" when she's done--there is a lot to remember about what she must do, and Tía Dolores is very strict about how she is expected to hold her body and hands to play. She slumps and Tía Dolores tells her to sit up straight and play the ten notes again up and down with one hand, and then the other. Josefina hits a wrong note and Tía Dolores tells her to start over instantly and reminds her of how to sit and hold her fingers. Josefina thinks she wouldn't mind being uncomfortable if she were making music, but she is not--she is only playing the same ten notes over and over like water dripping in a puddle--and it's not pretty as she keeps making mistakes. And the more she worries about her mistakes, the more she worries that Tía Dolores must think she's terrible at playing at all. However at the end of the lesson Tía Dolores seems cheerful enough and tells her to practice between her lessons to get better. Josefina agrees, thinking she can't possibly get worse.

In the afternoon when she is to take care of Antonio she puts him in the cradle, which surprises him as she normally plays with him. She says that she wants him to sleep so she can practice and tries to rock him to sleep, but the moment she stops singing he wakes up and asks for more. Josefina groans when she realizes he won't go to sleep and Antonio asks to be picked up, so Josefina lifts him up, realizing Antonio won't let her play the piano when she should be playing with him.

Over the next few weeks, it doesn't get any easier for Josefina to find the time to practice and her lessons are no easier. Josefina begins to dread her lessons, feeling that Tía Dolores is becoming tired of hearing Josefina's mistakes and saying "again, Josefina, try it again." One day, Josefina rushes through her chores to try and get a few minutes of practice before she must help with preparing dinner. She starts to practice her tuneless exercises, hitting many wrong notes and making mistakes as usual, and is suddenly aware of giggling behind her.


Josefina storms off, upset at her sisters' teasing and comments about her piano playing.

She looks over her shoulder to see two of her sisters, Francisca and Clara. Francisca is pretending to dance to Josefina's "music", swooping around and tripping over her feet--looking as clumsy as Josefina's playing--while Clara is trying and failing to hide her giggles at Francisca's actions. Josefina stops playing. Francisca teases for her to not stop so she can finish her "dance", and Clara says play it again. While normally Josefina can laugh at her older sisters' teasing her, she is frustrated and disenchanted with playing the piano; this all boils over and she sharply tells them to stop. Francisca says not to be cross as they were just having fun with her music. Josefina says that the music isn't fun for her due to her many mistakes. The sisters share a glance and Clara says that Papá warned Josefina but she didn't listen and she likely thought playing the piano would come as easy to her as reading and writing did, and she should face the fact it does not. Josefina, unwilling to hear another word but knowing Clara is right, slams the lid shut over the keys, takes her shawl, and runs out of the room and doesn't stop until she's at the stream near their rancho.

Josefina sits down on the rocky bank and sits hidden under her shawl with her arms around her knees and head bowed; she is any at the piano, her sisters, Tía Dolores, and most of all herself for being such a failure. Papá's voice catches her attention; he has come out to check on her. Josefina rises to her feet and tells him she wants to quit her piano lessons. Papá frowns and says that Tía Dolores has been very generous in spending time teaching Josefina to play and quitting now would be disrespectful and asks why she wants to quit. Josefina says, in a small voice, that she's doing badly. Papà says firmly that she will just have to practice more. Josefina is upset, as she has used every free minute in practice and she can't neglect her chores, and says she doesn't know where she'll find the time. Papá tells her to look harder.

Josefina thinks that the only way to find the time to practice is to do two things at once and practice at the same time she does her chores, which she starts the next day. She pretends to be sitting at the bench when on a stool husking corn; she pretends the kitchen table is the keys and plays imaginary notes with one hand while stirring chiles with the other; she practices curing her fingers properly while taking apples out of the bin; and she keeps her wrists level with her arms while carrying wool. When going to the stream to get water for the household, she hums the notes from her lessons over and over until they are fixed in her mind. After a few days of her doubling practice and chores, she shows some improvement in her lessons. Tía Dolores rewards her by giving her a song to learn; it is short with a simple tune, but sounds pretty when Tía Dolores plays it. Josefina is pleased to be playing music, but when she tries to play the song her fingers stumble so badly that the tune is lost in her mistakes.

One afternoon after her lessons Josefina has some extra time before she must look after Antonio, so she attempts to practice the new song. She starts to play and doesn't realize that anyone has come into the room until Ana taps her on the shoulder. Ana apologizes for interrupting, but she needs Josefina to take care of Antonio. Antonio wriggles out of his mother's arms to the floor and toddles towards Josefina. Josefina admits she's glad to stop playing as she's only making mistakes, and smiles cheerlessly in response to Ana's sympathetic smile as she picks Antonio up. Josefina says she's terrible and it's embarrassing and admits to Ana that she would like to give up because if she can't play well, she might as well not play at all.

Ana says that she hopes Josefina won't give up. She's been watching Josefina go about her daily chores and trying to find ways to practice while doing them. She nods at Antonio who is tugging on Josefina's braid and says she doesn't know if Antonio will give her time to practice or not, but she can try. She then kisses Antonio's cheek and leaves.


Antonio dances joyfully to Josefina's playing.

Josefina, with Antonio on her lap, says that she will practice but that it will probably be so bad he'll cry. Antonio gives a baby grin as she sets him on the floor and he then slaps the piano bench top as if to say to start. Josefina starts to play and Antonio crows with delight and bounces up and down in time to the music so enthusiastically that he falls down. Josefina stops to help him get up but he gets up on his own and and says "again, Josefina, again!" Josefina laughs aloud and says that at least someone likes her music and is so cheered she starts to play the song again, not worrying about her mistakes and playing just for fun. Antonio starts to dance again by taking a few steps, falling, and getting back up again and spinning or steppign before falling again. Even with many falls, he doesn't cry or quit getting back up, even though he's terrible at it and giggling so hard he can't even get three steps without falling.

Josefina, watching him, realizes that no one expects Antonio to walk perfectly since he's just learning how--and that no one expects her to play piano perfectly when she's just learning. Happier at the piano than she has been before, she plays the song louder and faster over and over. She makes mistakes but doesn't care--and neither does Antonio.

She is suddenly surprised to hear clapping behind her and stops, turning to see Papá smiling. He says that that didn't sound like someone who wants to give up music. Josefina smiles back and says she no longer wants to give it up anymore. Papá, picking up Antonio--who is tugging on his pants leg--asks what changed her mind and Josefina says that it was Antonio; he likes her playing the song that Tía Dolores taught her. Papá asks to hear the song and Josefina says yes, that she's happy to play it again.

Meet The Author[]

Valerie Tripp discusses her difficulty learning to play the clarinet when she was Josefina's age.

Looking Back: Rancho Life in 1824[]

Discusses rancho life and the importance of music and dancing as recreation in New Mexico. Topics include:

  • The difficulties of rancho life and how music brought welcome breaks from daily work and constant worry
  • How people counted on musicians and music for entertainment and that music was a part of every celebration and a reason to gather together, share stories and be joyful.
  • Occasions for celebration such as the arrivals of caravans, family and friends visiting, and religious events such as weddings and baptisms, and how they were celebrated with fandangos (informal dances).
  • Events on the occasion of a fandango such as the announcement by musicians, the gathering at the location, and the starto f dancing after dark fell.
  • Various dances performed during a fandango such as vals de la escoba (dance of the broom) and vals chiquiao (courting dance).
  • How music and song were part of day-to-day life and interwoven in daily chores and tasks such as songs about sweeping.
  • How music served as a tool to teach children Spanish history, traditions, faith, stories and folktales (cuentos), proverbs or wise sayings (dichos), and social values in an era before widespread literacy.
  • That musicians rarely had formal training and played handmade simple instruments, but were highly honored and often played songs such as ballads in exchange for lodging and food, and the luxury of an instrument such as a piano in the countryside and, while difficult, was a skill that could bring joy to others.

Activity: Dance La Vaquerita[]

Describes how to dance La Vaquerita (The Little Cowgirl), a two-person lively dance.

Items Associated With Again, Josefina![]

  1. Josefina and her sisters have all started learning how to read and write.