Tag Archives: Classical Music

piano

Although I don’t know much about my early beginnings, I do know that music has shaped my life in profound ways from as far back as I can remember. My biological sisters told me when I met them in Taiwan that our mother loved classical music. My sisters, too, share a love of music, so it’s not surprising that it would get passed down to me.

piano 1

May 1977

My adoptive parents rented a small upright piano after I came home one day from a friend’s house saying that I wanted to take piano lessons.  I was just fascinated by how she could play the piano. I picked up melodies easily by ear, and once my parents saw how much I loved playing, they bought a baby grand of which I still have in my possession. I’m sure that my parents spent what was considered a lot of money in those days on the purchase of that piano. I remember first sitting down and marveling at the feel of the ivory keys beneath my fingers. The keys were much heavier, and I loved how much richer the bass sound was. I studied classical piano through college, although around my sophomore year, I became interested in acting and dancing as well, which competed with my practice time at the piano. I spent three-four hours practicing piano daily in college, as I was a performance major (I chose a performance degree so that I didn’t have to take any math classes). I loved being a music major. Listening to music, playing music, studying music. To be surrounded by music was just about the best thing ever. I was a decent pianist, not super talented, but played well enough to get through a college degree in piano performance.

piano 2

June 1976

I have often asked myself why I quit playing after graduating. I think part of it was that my mom “made” me keep taking lessons when I wanted to quit, as many students eventually do. But it wasn’t just piano. There were so many other things that my mom insisted upon that, had I been less compliant, would have strained our relationship even further. She wanted me to eventually teach piano privately and stay in Louisiana. Both ideas were about the worst thing I could have imagined. I actually did teach briefly after graduation, but didn’t like it. After our daughter was born in California, I went back to teaching on and off for about ten years so that I could be at home with her. I understand my mom and why she did the things she did much better as an adult who has lived life a little. Although I don’t agree with the way she parented, she was doing the best she could. There are times when I wish that I could tell her that because I know that she loved me, and it was a tough job raising an internationally adopted kid without any kind of support or training. She also loved music and played the organ.

I cannot imagine a world without music. Playing the piano was a way to express myself, although I really had no idea that that was what I was doing back then. I thank both my moms for giving me a love of music. I don’t play as often as I’d like, but I do have some ideas for a new creative project at the piano that I hope to start soon. We’ll see what comes of it in the days and months ahead. Hoping that you, too, make space for  creativity in whatever shape suits you.

music to my ears

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.

Header Photo by Adrian Swancar on Unsplash