Music to my mind is a most puissant form of magic, and has the power to invoke such strong memories and emotions, that tune that always reminds you of your first love, or the song that could be your own biography, and all those happy reminders of your past.
When Liz first played Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Valse Lente for me, she did so in the hopes that I’d like it enough to start learning it myself. I did, I really loved it, instantly, it spoke sweetly and dearly to me. It spoke to me of childhood memories; merry-go-rounds, music boxes and the Italian commedia dell’arte and its comedic and tragic characters, the Pierrot doll I had as a young girl, and still have to this day. And I played it for my son, and to him it spoke of a fantasy computer game he used to play. Ah, the generations! Music speaks differently to people.
This beautiful piece however soon became a reminder of great loss, the last piece Liz and I worked on together. I stopped playing it and listening to it after her sudden death two years ago. I always knew that when I eventually returned to it, I would have gained at least some acceptance of what is a great loss for me.
I made a promise to you Liz, that I would keep working it, a promise I intended keeping. I’m back working on it now, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to talk to you about it. See I still forget at times, that you’ve gone, and I cry when I’m on my own, and oh I still see you walking down the street. However I also think of you often with joy and happy memories and thankfully there’s more of these than tears these days. And I think happy thoughts of a beautiful Valse Lente again.
For you my dear, dear Liz, for all the wonderful memories I have because of you, of music and books, the love of which we shared, lovely evenings with wine and chats, of laughter and silliness and an eternal friendship that will never fade. I love you. I miss you.
Cheers and shine brightly.
I took up playing the piano at the age of 42, however my desire to learn piano goes back to my teens. My siblings and I were allowed one extra-curricular activity and my first choice was ballet. But I had a friend that I visited regularly and she played, so I got to have a little experience. Nothing major, a few chords, chopsticks, you know the easy stuff. But that desire remained and when we purchased a keyboard for the kids, I was probably the most enthusiastic beyond the initial novelty. However keyboards are very different to pianos in that the dynamics of the piece are difficult to create with a keyboard, but it didn’t stop me and about a year later I started lessons and a year after that I got my own piano.
A big investment, but by that time I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and my passion for learning was strong. That I suppose is a major advantage to learning anything new as an adult. Often that dream extends all the way back to our childhood and it has become ingrained in our imagination. And when the raising of our children becomes a little less hectic and we suddenly have more time for ourselves, these dreams come flooding back. I’ve learnt to read music, simply because it’s an integral part of piano and of classical music study and performance and for the better part of the last eight years I’ve played classical music. I have recently however started expanding my repertoire to pieces this side of the 1950’s. And I’m currently learning The Cave by Mumford and Sons. Who knows, one day I might get a chance to jam with a six-fingered banjo player. Whether your instrument requires you to read music or not, I really think it is very helpful in getting a basic understanding at least, to help with the shaping of a piece.
But this does raise the question for me, can it be too late to start learning, especially with regard to developing any great proficiency. My daughter started her piano lessons around the same time as me. It always seemed to be much easier for her, than for me, despite the fact that I practiced ten times more than she. Her fingers were so much more agile than mine. I’m in no doubt that children and adults learn in totally different ways and perhaps that explains her ability to grasp what was in front of her faster. Children almost intuitively learn and they’re not afraid to make mistakes. Speaking for myself, I always beat myself up if I did something wrong, complete with headbanging the piano. I’d over think the piece, apply reasoning and thinking strategies and the music became very wooden.
My friend and piano teacher passed away June 2013, and at that time I decided to no longer take lessons, to go it alone basically. Sadly, I stopped playing for quite some time, it reminded me too much of Liz and didn’t help with everything else that was going on for me. I’m back playing again now, but still find myself thinking, I must talk to Liz about shaping this piece. I still can’t believe she’s gone.
My daughter no longer plays, she simply lost interest and didn’t bothering practicing and finally stopped going to lessons altogether. I guess making the decision later in life to learn is a big plus. I still struggle with playing and learning new pieces, but I love playing. And despite the fact that my fingers are not exactly long (I can barely span an octave), I muddle through, and I also take great delight in the fact that my favourite piano maestro Daniel Barenboim plays so beautifully with equally tiny hands.
Apart from the childhood dream fulfilled, there are many other benefits to taking up an instrument post childhood. It helps to reduce stress, and strengthens the brain, and yes there has actually been studies done in the area of brain power/learning music which show that the longer a person plays the stronger their non-verbal and visuospatial memory, as well as their ability to adapt to new information. The reason for this and what appears to be unique to playing an instrument, is that it requires a wide array of brain regions and cognitive functions to work together simultaneously, in both right and left hemispheres of the brain. Add to that playing and listening to music is one the greatest and simplest pleasures imaginable.
I think that the two most important decisions to make, are that you are prepared to practice consistently and that you choose the right instrument for you. Not everyone can play anything, I have first hand knowledge of that. I once considered the flute, but after trying one, I decided that I’d give it a miss. If I was making any sounds from it, they were only ones dogs could hear. Not forgetting my eldest son, who definitely has many other wonderful abilities, but persisted in torturing me throughout his primary education with the most appalling tin whistle playing ever, which he eventually gave up to play the violin. Oh dear god it was terrible, even worse than the tin whistle, think cats being tortured. He now plays the guitar, much better, but he won’t be winning any awards any time soon. When you think of a mothers’ love, it’s never stronger nor put to the test more than when they’re playing an instrument. Make sure to try a few out, get the right one, it is after all a big investment and a lifetime commitment. So if your tossing up whether to start, go for it, you won’t regret it.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
People come into our lives for lots of reasons, some say for a lifetime, a season or a reason.
My friendship with Liz lasted a lifetime. Her sudden passing this weekend, has left all who knew and loved her, heartbroken and desperately seeking an answer to why. For me, for the rest of my life she has taken a special place in my heart, thoughts and soul.
I find myself a day after her beautiful and simple funeral, utterly bereft. I spent the day in quiet solitude, thinking of her laugh, her smile and her last words to me on Saturday. I chose to turn to writing, and hopefully gain some peace from that.
I’ve known Liz for years, her daughter and my children having gone to primary school together, but I only really got to know her well about six years ago, when I started piano lessons, and this quickly became a deep friendship that grew and grew. A friendship of mutual respect and admiration, of shared passions and of sheer enjoyment in each other’s company.
Liz was a wonderful musician, an exquisite pianist and I loved to watch her play. Her beautiful long fingers danced across the keys, her eyes closed gently and her body swayed as she played. The beautiful music singing not only from the piano but from her very being, her lovely spirit.
And then it was my turn, and the spell was broken.
“It’s the C, Gill.” “Oh the other C.” “You weren’t playing the C.” “Are you sure about that, Liz.” “Fairly sure, Gill.”
“That’s lovely, Gill, but it’s not what the composer wrote.” “Mine’s Better, Liz.” “Undoubtedly, but as he went to so much trouble to write it his way, we should probably respect that and try our best to follow his score.” We would both then dissolve into laughter and tears of laughter until many minutes had passed before we could resume again.
But my favourites times with Liz, were the coffees, occasional meals together, or the glasses of wine in her favourite room, looking out over the stars and city lights, surrounded by her childhood piano and her much loved books. And we would sit late into the night discussing music, books, family, life and love.
I was with Liz two weeks ago, when her last student was finishing up, and she said to me, “Ah Gill, look at the beautiful gift I got.” And she showed me a beautiful bunch of roses. “And Gill, we must have a coffee from my new machine, it’s second hand but it’s brilliant. It makes lovely coffee and we must share one.” Last week, when we met again, it was, “Ah Gill, look at my lovely new sandals, they are so comfortable.” And her face lit up again, like a child on Christmas morning.
That was my friend Liz, such joy in the simple pleasures of life. A gentle honesty, generosity of spirit, such calm dignity, living life so passionately, and sending lovely picture messages which always seemed to come at just the right time.
I stood again in her favourite room, Monday evening, looking down on her coffin, grief stricken and in shock. Her daughter leaned into me, took my hand and shared with me, her mother’s feelings for me. I will hug them to me for rest of my life. But I wondered too, did she know how special she was to me. Did I tell her enough. We all think we have so much time.
Yseult said to me Monday, “Gill, Mum was a donor and she saved six lives, isn’t that wonderful. And it is, and back in February, at one of the darkest times in my life, her gentle coaxing of me, back to piano and something to focus on helped to save mine.
I have much to be grateful for, all these people in the world, and Liz and I connected. In time too, all my lovely memories of her will bring me great joy. And I will think of her as I look at the stars, a shining light that once blazed here on earth is now twinkling down on me from the heavens.
Nearly four weeks into the treatment and back up to the full dose, I find myself, day by day with a little more energy. I think about what it would be to return to my old self, the wonderful highs, but then I remember the lows, and swings of mood and the speed at which this occurs and so my goal is gentle and steady contentment.
My mind is so quiet, it hasn’t been so peaceful in there in such a long time, and my inner critic is silent and it’s allowed me time to explore and get to know the real me, the me I want to show the world. The me that’s strong, free and vibrant.
I’m back now at my piano lessons and have fallen in love with the beautiful, Valse Lente by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It puts me in mind of carnivals, masquerades and music boxes. And of course the exquisite Moonlight Sonata, but it such a stretch for my little hands.
And I’ve returned to my studies and overcome a huge hurdle, and when I relaxed into it, it wasn’t as daunting as my imagine had me believe. Onwards to the final exam of this part of my course, and the impetus that came from completing my self concept has me pushing on, and each question answered, a little step closer to my goal.
I think I’m happy!
I started my blogs on my depression, not to dwell on the misery of being in the depths of this horrible soul sucking place, but to find a way out. To try and find the positives and focus on them instead. The suicidal thoughts that drove me to my doctor, terrified me, not so much the thoughts of the world being a better place without me, but the casualness and ease in which they entered my head, and of how these thoughts could overwhelm me and become all consuming.
The antidepressant side effects are still there, some are easing and some are showing no signs of abating, but I’ve found two positives to being on them. One, Twin Peaks reruns are starting to make a whole lot of sense, and two my favourite piano piece ‘Moonlight Sonata’ has taken on a calmer more sedate feel, more like how the piece show feel, probably a result of the sluggishness, but the result being, my mind calms as I play and I get lost in the music and the beautiful simplicity of the piece. I had to give up my lessons because of financial restraints and it sadly came at a time when staying with them would have been a godsend for me.
Valentines Day has just passed and anyone close to me, knows I’m not a fan, but that’s not always been the case. As a young woman, Valentines Day spoke to the romantic in me, and I still have a romantic side, it’s just well hidden and out of practice. The cards and flowers I longed for, the secret admirers, the power of young emotions. Perhaps Valentines Day is for young lovers and certainly as I’ve aged I’ve become a little cynical of the day, but I think the truth of my apathy are of a more personal nature. For one day the world is in love, and it passes me by.
This year however I got two Valentines, one from an old boyfriend/old friend from my teens, someone I recently reconnected with through Facebook and the other from my friend and Piano teacher, and asking me to return to my lessons, free of charge, just to keep my spirits up. Maybe they’re not declarations of undying love, but the love and kindness of friends will do just as well. And for the first time in so long my tears weren’t of overwhelming sadness.