Last Friday all of my students, many storm-battered, came together for a Group Class—as much an exercise in critical listening as performance . When I write “critical” , it implies a kind of deep and sympathetic ear, rather than any negative connotations. Getting us all together is a feat in itself, and this event had been planned a while back. Greta’s Bach Andante from the Italian Concerto, was a wonderful way to get the ball rolling . Brent, who had come in for his annual coaching, from Wyoming, played two sets of Bach preludes and fugues with reverance and clarity; Edward, after two weeks of hell in dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane, still managed to focus and play his Granados “Maiden and the Nightingale” with all the requisite exotic colors and flavors. Melisa played her Schubert Moment Musical with exquisite refinement and restraint., and Melissa’s Pagodes , by Debussy was sheer bliss. Gary got all the stylish salonish flourishes into his Weber “Invitation to the Dance” along with his usual amusing asides, and Chris’s movement from Beethoven’s opus 27, No. 1, was evolved and lovely. My three teen-aged students, Chia-ling, George and Maddy, were no less successful with their Chopin and Bach, and several students sat in, choosing not to play this time.
The thing about this class is that it has become a musical family. The support and mutual respect, not to mention the genuine rooting for each other’s best efforts, is a phenomenon that gives me so much pleasure and fulfillment, not to mention compensation for not having my genetic family nearby. We all look forward to being together, and the feeling of friendship abounds. I would even say there is love in the air. The commentary is offered gently and constructively, with praise, and because of this positive atmosphere, nerves are down to a low rumble, if there are any at all…
For me, it was the most healing antidote for the hardships of the previous weeks, when music could not lift me up and out of the doldrums. Now, with these wonderful people who comprise my class of students, I was buoyed up and in my beautiful life again.

The Superstorm

All my life I have loved and been fascinated by the sounds of nature. Beethoven said, “You ask me where I get my ideas—I pluck them from the air–the trees, the rocks, the brooks, they speak to me, and the sounds swirl and rage above my head until I have set them down on paper.”

Still, there is nothing, even in Beethoven’s greatest oeuvre, not in the storm within the Pastorale Symphony, not in the Tempest Sonata,( though maybe in the intro to the last movement of the Ninth,) that comes close to the forces that swirled above our heads and home in the storm called Sandy, end of October 2012. (Perhaps had Beethoven not become deaf, he might, if anyone might, have come closer.) Those sounds, I could not love.

I had my two beautiful pianos swathed in tarpaulins lest the windows had been blown out, and I felt like crawling underneath the resulting tent-like shelter, like I did when I was a child; the underside of the piano then, yielded beautiful resonating vibrations that  excited me; now it would be to escape the frightful sounds. This seemed to be the work of a wrathful God,– a warning to mankind?

“Why don’t you play the piano?” my husband asked me. I could not. I could not have found solace in music–even in Beethoven, the supreme expressor of Wrath or Hope; or even in Bach–the great creator of Order out of Chaos; or Mozart, straight from Heaven (Heaven? what was that?) and anyone else was rendered trivial.

This pianist’s landscape , once serene and in tune with the natural world, was writhing and ruptured–monumental trees smashed to smithereens, and brambles of branches laced and snarled with hideous snapping wires.

If I had no wish to play, I had every wish to resume my teaching, which has, more and more, become an indispensable and vital part of my life. Income entirely aside, (if not entirely irrelevant), the warmth of sharing life, as it is interwoven and reflected in music, was, however, echoed in the two books that gave me comfort in the hours of light…

“Beethoven Remembered”, is a compilation of the composer’s own jottings and letters, as gathered by his best friend, Franz Wegeler, and his student, Ferdnand Ries, has been available in English only relatively recently (1987), and given to me by a wonderful former student when he moved away.

The other book is Leon Fleisher’s memoir, “My Nine Lives”–amusing, inspiring, and entirely HUMAN…so much so, that I ended in writing him a letter, and mailing it , unlike the one I once wrote to Beethoven! Those of us who are blessed (or cursed) with artistic natures, are stuck with our more reactive, neurotic, spontaneous responses, and our heightened despair and impotence to make our lives whole again.

Instead of recounting some of the heartbreaking stories and miseries that were all around us on Long Island and in the Northeast, I will say that in particular, one of my favorite people and students, and a wonderful pianist, Edward, and his wife Ellen, lost most of the interior of their house near the water, and have subsequently moved their grand piano into storage. When he told me he “had lost so much music with your markings and fingerings”, and the lengths he went to to rescue the notebooks into which I have scribbled whatever insights and suggestions about the music we work on, it touched me more than anything…I will help him to replace lost music with whatever extra copies I have in my library, and gladly teach him senza ricompensa for however long it takes for him to regain his equilibrium.