One of the things I love about Saturday mornings is doing absolutely nothing. I love to start the morning slowly with no agenda. This morning I practiced yoga, had a cup of black tea and made pumpkin pancakes. Then I listened to Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto (No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73) performed by pianist, Maurizio Pollini, and conducted by his son, Daniele Pollini, with the Sinfónica de Galicia. It literally brought tears to my eyes – not only the beautiful performance by a much older Pollini, but to see father and son perform together. How meaningful that performance must have been for them both. How often do musical performances you listen to bring tears of pure bliss?
Piano, of course, is my favorite instrument, not that I’m biased or anything. I truly, deeply, madly regret not continuing to play the piano after I graduated college. I didn’t touch a keyboard for what must have been 15 years, maybe more. Why? I think there was a certain level of inadequacy that I felt as a pianist. My college piano teacher was very inspiring, yet because of my own issues, I never quite met her expectations. I don’t think I was capable of it at the time, as there was so much exploration that needed to take place surrounding my identity and self. I eventually began teaching piano and had my baby grand shipped out to California from Louisiana. We barely had space enough for it to fit in our tiny condo at the time. I joined the Music Teacher’s Association of CA and opened up my own studio. Still, I didn’t play very much; however, I did teach for about ten years, until I went back to grad school for social work.
Long before social work, I took classes at ASU as part of the master’s program in piano pedagogy and performance. I began studying under a doctorate student in order to get to a level where I could audition for the program. Sinjin, although nice, was not the greatest teacher. I had lost a great deal of skill as a result of not playing for so many years and was attempting to re-learn some of the pieces I’d performed in college. In hindsight, that was a huge undertaking, and as a result of over-practicing, I developed carpel tunnel syndrome in my right wrist. Cortisone shots were painful, and I was told by the doctor to stop practicing. That was not going to happen. I practiced several hours a day, as long as the cortisone provided relief.
At my lessons, Sinjin loved to change the fingering of almost every piece I was practicing in some of the more difficult passages. Weekly, as though this would help. That’s like asking someone to change the lyrics in a song repeatedly and re-memorize them over and over, only worse. It required more work, and with constant change, muscle memory was almost impossible. On top of that frustration, I sensed from Sinjin that I just wasn’t good enough to be in ASU’s master’s level program. There were many, many young, talented students, and I was very intimidated by them all, not to mention the program director, who was a bit of a snob. The snobbishness throughout the piano department irked me, so I dropped out. I did not want to spend my days practicing nine or ten hours knowing that I may or may not be selected to enter the program while, at the same time, feeling less than. Eventually, I studied music therapy thinking that I’d rather use music as a tool for healing. Although I loved the idea of helping others through music, I had to leave that career because it just wasn’t lucrative enough, although I continue to keep my certification current.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally had my baby grand piano tuned for the first time since moving to California – that’s two years with an out of tune piano. It sounds great now. I just wish that I could play like I used to and have to admit that it’s quite disappointing to not be able to pick things back up. I try to remind myself that at least I can still read music and play simpler pieces. Interestingly, I learned that my new piano tuner is also adopted. It’s ironic to me how I randomly end up within the same orbit as other adoptees. For example, when I worked at Arizona State Hospital, I learned that my co-worker, Greg, was an adoptee from Brazil, and the psychiatrist I worked with had three internationally adopted children. I don’t know our piano tuner’s story, as my husband had a conversation with him after he came back a second time to fix a sticking key. I was, unfortunately, at a work-related event. I hope to learn more one day though.
Despite my inability to play as I once did, I still love music almost more than life itself. I remember times practicing in college getting completely, utterly lost in the music that I was playing. I honestly had a better relationship with music than with people. Kinda sad, but true. Music doesn’t judge or have expectations like people, and it’s easy to form an attachment to. I hope one day to use music therapeutically more frequently with adoptees and adoptive families. As Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
I’ve included below the YouTube video of the Pollini & Pollini performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto. Enjoy.