(For an immersive experience, listen to Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto, 2nd movement played by Shostakovich himself while reading)
A few months ago I found out that my first piano teacher, who is over 90 years old, was losing her memory. It hit me hard when my mom told me she visited her, only to be kindly greeted as a stranger.
I visited her this past weekend with my family almost scared to step inside her house. What if she had forgotten me? Would she even recognize that I was her student for 10 years? I entered through the door and for a good hour or two, I shamefully ate on the other side of the table from her, talking to our family friends and the other company.
Inevitably at these reunions nowadays, someone requests listening to my piano playing and lo and behold it happened again. As I made my way to the Baldwin upright, my piano teacher took a front seat right behind me. I started playing Debussy’s Rêverie (which translates as “dream”) followed by a part of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau (which translates as “water games”) and finally my teacher spoke to me in Shanghainese after I finished playing.
“You must still be practicing.”
“I try my best, but it’s hard now that I teach full-time.”
“Yes, but to at least maintain these pieces at the level you are doing so I know that you are still practicing… How much do you practice nowadays?”
“Since it’s summer I have a bit more time but otherwise I sometimes only have time for a little bit on the weekends.”
“Even if you’re not playing full pieces, you should still try to practice at least 4 to 5 times a week. But not bad, you are still keeping up your facility. It’s too bad I just can’t see too well anymore.”
The conversation trailed off there, but here was my first piano teacher telling me that I needed to continue practicing. If that wasn’t a kick in my butt (albeit loving and supportive) I don’t know what is.
It also made me feel so selfish. Here I was worried that she wouldn’t remember me (still a fear for the future), but she was reflecting on how she would play if she could see better, amongst other things.
Whenever I meet new people and introduce myself as a pianist/music teacher, 9 out of 10 times I receive this response,
“Oh I used to play piano and I hated it as a kid, but now I wish I could still play since it’s so beautiful.”
… to which I response, just play! Nothing is stopping you from playing but yourself. No time is a bad time to pick up an instrument and just have a go at it. Sure, you might not sound fantastic for a little while (or a long while) but you’ll lose yourself in creating the music all by yourself. Heck, you can ultimately end up jamming with other people.
It’s okay if you think “why Alice, easy for you to say because you’re a musician.” But really, it’s not. I have to remind myself this all the time. Sometimes as musicians we just get TOO lost in the technical aspects of playing or just need that jolt of inspiration and forget, well, the music part of music if you know what I mean. The emotion sparking, heart wrenching, tear evoking and subtly moving parts of phrases blending into one another.
One day you might not be able to play, for whatever reason. So why not play today? I’m sure my piano teacher would want you to.