In search of story

January 17.20


You are right, dear reader: you have seen this little sighing bird before. In my last post.

He has been with me in a singular way. Allow me to take you back to the late 1940s, when I was in kindergarten and my mother was lobbying the highly-respected (read: tyrannical) piano teacher in our area, who didn’t take students before they could read. I was not consulted.

Mom won. I couldn’t read but I started lessons, and I spent the next several years in tearful plea to be allowed to quit. I hated my lessons and I hated practicing. Mom said I could quit after ten years. I remember the moment because one remembers when one’s blood runs cold.

At that ten-year mark everything changed because I had my first Liszt étude: Gnomenreigen. It was the beginning of my suspicion that Liszt had fifteen fingers. Two years later, my next Liszt étude: Un Sospiro, The Sigh. I played it well. Not brilliantly, but well.

I had two dreams as a pianist: to play the original Rhapsody in Blue and to play La Campanella, The Bells, another Liszt étude. I never accomplished the first. I could only approximate the second. Alas.

But I think about the eloquence of those études. A sigh. The bells. They are there in those magical acrobatics. And I marvel at the transcendent power of a grey image, a D flat, and, yes, a tyrannical piano teacher.

4 thoughts on “January 17.20

  1. Ah, the good old days when Mom said something, and we did it. Can you imagine telling a child today that they had to complete ten years of anything except video gaming? 🙂 I don’t have a musical cord in my body but applaud your skills. I’m sure over a lifetime you have gotten limitless satisfaction from playing the piano. Thanks, Mom. 🙂

    • You make me laugh — “good old days,” eh? I don’t know how kids would take it now, but I know I froze then. Ten years was forever! I used to beg to switch to lessons with the sisters because then I’d have the summers off. My parents both were adamant that summers off were NOT an option. I was surrounded by tyrants! But you are, oh, so right about the satisfaction. I hated to practice but I loved to play and my piano has rescued me my whole life. Yes, Mom was right.

  2. Gosh – my mouth opened when I read ten years! My mum tried hard to get me to appreciate classical music (though not quite as hard as yours). I can just about stretch to The Nutcracker, so am not well placed to comment, except to say it reminds me of being forced to listen to Genesis over and over in the 6th form. After a few years of not hearing it, I actually found I liked some of it and missed it. Music acts that way on us.

    I did wonder if Liszt might have played with his toes on one end of the keyboard.

    • I hadn’t thought about toes, but you might be on to something. A mere ten fingers just never seemed enough. As to the ten years, I think I figured up once that, all told, I studied piano for about sixteen years. My child self would never have believed that was remotely possible. I congratulate you on getting to The Nutcracker, and I congratulate your mum for getting you there! I agree that music and Genesis might act on us in similar ways. A most interesting thought.

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