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An adult piano student’s musical journey began in Holland

Marie, a pupil of long-standing, bestowed a heartwarming narrative about her piano study and its European roots.

Uncannily, when I’d posted a beautiful rendering of Chopin’s Db Nocturne in one of my blogs, she commented that pictures imported through the soundtrack were places she had known as a child, so her memoir flows from these tableaux:

From Marie:

“My relationship with the piano began while I was growing up in Holland. My brother and sister and I all hid under the table when this huge, black thing was hoisted with a crane into our two-story window of a small living room. I eyed the black and white keys cautiously wondering why it all looked so strange not like any other furniture in the house. Then, my mother began to play. Chopin, she said. My five-year old self had never heard anything so beautiful. Our home instantly filled with music and I began to long to play myself. Do, re, mi mother taught as the lessons began. But, to my dismay, what came so easily to her became a mystifying struggle for me. Our tentative relationship became more strained as I tried her patience. Yet, how I longed for the notes to become beautiful music.

“The lessons stopped abruptly when we moved to America. The piano could not come with us, and now was a luxury we could not afford so music became phonograph records and the Lawrence Welk Show. The piano became a childhood memory.

“I was in college before the piano emerged again in my life. It was in a mandatory music class that required us to play a piece on the piano. I stared at the notes unable to make any sense of them. Why can’t you just get it, badgered my teacher. I was a failure without a prayer of a chance to create any music. I dared not touch those elusive keys again.

“Yet, the music remained in my heart and the desire to play awakened when I could finally afford a piano of my own. At first my mother attempted to teach me again, but that went no better than when I was a child. Determined, I found another teacher and slowly the notes started to sound more like music. Lessons continued in fits and starts as one teacher after another moved away. Then, one day staring at my dormant piano, I dared to risk finding a teacher again. That is when I connected with Shirley.

“The right teacher is a student’s dream. Shirley understood my struggles. She inspired confidence and gave me the courage to believe in my musical self. She patiently undid all the doings of inept teachers, as she methodically taught me how to create beautiful sounds with a flexible wrist, swishing thumb, coming under a note and not poking it out.

“While most of the theory still goes over my head, Shirley thoroughly explains how it applies to each of the pieces filling in the gaps of my schooling. And all without pressure or put downs! I was able to relax into the music at my own pace.

“It has not been easy. If I don’t practice, my playing suffers. That has been a challenge with a busy work schedule and family commitments. Yet, all the effort is worth it.

“I have learned so much more than just music. It has been about mindfulness and focusing on the present moment. It has been about letting go of control as l learned to let go and let the music flow. It has been about becoming so much more aware of my body and breath as it transmits sound and emotions into the music. It has been about patience and pacing myself when I am anxious. After all, music has tempo and rests. It is a continuous learning process that really is about life itself. Then, one day, when I was able to play “Fur Elise” all the way through, I realized the notes became music. And that has been my biggest joy, and is my continued desire to create something beautiful in this world.”

Marie and Aiden

Marie and I breathe through warm-ups together. We learn from each other over weeks, months and years.

After I moved from Fresno to Berkeley, Marie became a SKYPE student, keeping intact her love for piano and cats:

Marie and Cat on Skype

My comment: While I appreciate Marie’s unsolicited praise, she has done most of the work with unswerving passion and devotion. She continues to experience new awakenings that she shares with me, and her inquisitiveness keeps me on my toes.

Marie’s studies over the years: Beethoven “Fur Elise,” the Chopin Waltz in A minor, no. 19, Op. Posthumous, Chopin Prelude in A Major; a collection of Burgmuller pieces: “Angels’ Voices,” “The Clear Stream,” “Sorrow,” “Sincerity,” and “Tarantelle,” from Op. 100; Bach Invention no. 4 in D minor, and going back in time, Clementi Sonatina in C, Anna Magdalena Bach selections; Schumann “First Sorrow,” (Album for the Young), Rameau Menuet and Rondeau, J.C. Bach: Prelude in A minor, and Andante; Mozart Dance in F Major, James Hook Minuet, Mazurka by Maria Szymanowska; Schein Allemande; Tansman “Arabia,” Telemann “A Dance,” J.S. Bach Bouree in A minor, Kabalevksy “Joke,” Le Couppey “The Shepherd’s Pipe.”

Update: Tchaikovsy’s “In the Church,” Op. 39, No. 24

Technique: Circle of Fifths: Four-octave Major and minor scales, in parallel and contrary motion; now adding parallel 10ths–from quarters to 32nd notes/legato/staccato

Four-octave arpeggios around the Circle of Fifths, Major and minor–Triplet 8ths to triplet 32nds
Contrary motion, three octave spread.. Legato/staccato

NEW: Parallel tenths (Legato/staccato)

Parallel and contrary thirds in staccato (five-finger Major and minor positions, all keys) and TENTHS.

EXTRAS in knowing Marie: A few years ago, she graduated to a beautiful Acrosonic Baldwin that I helped select, and then asked me to play a small concert for her mother’s 90th birthday. It was a memorable occasion because Marie’s mom had known and played all the compositions I offered, including Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata.


Are Adult Piano Students Stigmatized?

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