For years there were certain pieces of piano music I did not listen to. I told myself this was because they had grown stale in my mind. After all what you had struggled with as a teenager could not be anything but overused. Listening to a perfect recording only made me wince at the memory of my own adolescent rendition. Perhaps I had been over ambitious for I always had stumbled over the same bits. Perhaps it had always been the same fateful bar 34!
Whatever the reason I did not listen to those pieces once I had left home for university. There were other, more interesting things to be thinking of.
However, twenty years ago a character who played the piano appeared in one of my novels. I’m not sure how this happened. But this was what I wrote about her.
A piece of music lodged in her head played over and over again. All day long the sounds had run on in this way, like slow-moving water, gathering and growing within her. She could think of nothing else. It engulfed her, flooding her senses, leaving no room for anything else. It seemed to hold all the colours from their discarded life, all the dazzling brightness they had once taken for granted. It was filled with the sound of the sea. She wanted to play it in order to understand more clearly the subtle shifts and changes, and what difference these enharmonics made to the whole. She needed to sit quietly at the piano and let the sounds come to her, flow through her fingers, correcting themselves as they fell into the early evening air. *
What on earth had made me write that?
Now, having learnt the trills in the Mozart sonata…eh, well, sort of, anyway... I decided to attack my dismal sight-reading skills. Picking up an old music book I flipped through it casually. As I am now deep in several books on piano technique I decided the time had come to sight-read faster.
M seemed to have gone silent. She had a habit of doing this and a part of me was glad. I wanted to surprise her by playing the Mozart perfectly.
One can but hope.
Anyway I didn’t ring her believing it best to leave sleeping music teachers to lie.
So, in the spirit of serious learning I picked out a piece I once used to play.
It was Chopin’s Nocturne No.2.
That old chestnut (I thought)
How many flats?
Could I be bothered?
My Bechstein grinned up at me. It nodded in a way I felt was, kind-of, well, taunting.
The man next door had begun sawing again, possibly in protest over my trills.
Outside the rain was falling. The day gloomy, the news about the virus grim. In a day my son would have his birthday but because of the lockdown I would see him only on a screen.
Slowly I began to play. Suddenly, in that instant I was transported back to some other time.
A time when all the colours of life lay like a carpet, as yet unrolled.
When playing a piece of music was as easy as brushing your teeth.
When all I had wanted to do was finish my practice and rush out to do something entirely more interesting.
Clearly now, I heard my mother asking me where I was going and would I please finish my homework, first?
And then, all at once, I remembered her telling me, tentatively (for she was not really very musical and my father and I used to tease her about this), that she could not listen to that Nocturne again once I had left home. For the house, she had said, once so full of music, had become silent with my departure.
What had I said in reply? I cannot remember.
Now, blindly, from some other places in my mind, the notes began falling into place.
* Bone China