I thought that when I moved to Italy that my life would change. OK, not that it hasn’t in some pretty significant ways. But there are things that seem to follow me wherever I go. It shouldn’t surprise me I suppose, but it does. I was born into a life filled with music. One month after I was born I attended my first high school basketball game and sat with the pep band that my father directed. I learned concert etiquette long before other kids my age did. I started playing the piano when I was five and the flute when I was eleven. I still play them both on a very irregular basis, just for fun. My life has been marked by performing for others and by watching others perform. When my family gets together it is assumed that we will all bring our instruments.
So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find myself on Sunday afternoon sitting on a dining room chair with twenty other people anxiously watching the grand piano pressed into the corner of the room as eight little Italians nervously looked over their music and waited for the teacher to begin the recital. One of my best friends here in Florence has a daughter who was in the recital, and Sofia graciously allowed us to come with her parents to listen, which I felt was a great honor as this was her first recital and she was incredibly nervous. Especially since her mother told her that I have played the piano for many years, and there’s nothing like the presence of an experienced piano player to make a young player nervous.
In some ways it was exactly like every other recital or concert I have been to. Adoring parents and grandparents armed with high-tech cameras took pictures and videos of everything, the little boys squirmed and fought and talked through everyone else’s pieces and at least two people “forgot” to turn their cell phones off or put them on silent and had to rush out of the room to answer their phone. Two students forgot some of their music, and one poor girl had to stop in the middle of her piece to rearrange her pages that got into the wrong order when she (inevitably) dropped them.
In some big ways this recital was very different from those I took part in or attended in the past. I thought that only eight students would mean a fairly short concert. Hah! She took advantage of the fact that there were only eight students to have them each perform four pieces. When we reached the bottom of the first page of the program I thought we were done. I didn’t read the second page carefully so when the teacher then announced that the students would now be performing pieces for four hands I was a little shocked. I had never really played four handed pieces very often. But this teacher seemed to feel (and she could be very right) that even though the piano is frequently a solo instrument that her students should be able to play with another person. It definitely teaches them how to listen not only to the other person but to how they sound, so it makes sense. But I don’t think we needed an hour of four handed music on top of the solo pieces that they performed. They played with each other, then each student played with the teacher.
We had now been sitting in her living room for almost three hours. Italians have a fear of drafts, even warm ones, so there were only two windows open. Thankfully I was sitting next to one of them, but every time I inched it open a little more, the woman in the row behind me would slowly pull it back to the almost closed position. Dining room chairs are not designed to be sat on for three hours, and these still had their original varnish finish, so as I grew warmer and my blouse began to take on sweat I slowly became welded to the chair back and had to keep moving to stop my clothing from becoming part of the furniture. I wrestled my blouse free from the chair one more time thinking that we were finished.
But there was more yet to come. The reason the recital was being held in her home was so that her dying father could hear one more recital. This is no melodramatic sentimental Italian statement, but the truth. He is dying. He has lived with her and listened to her teach others to play for years. And so, after all her students had played for him, she sat down to play several pieces for him as well. I think every woman (and a few of the men) in the room except for the woman playing and me were crying by the time she finished. She is a consummate performer, I just don’t cry in public.
Honestly, even though I had spent over three hours in a hot airless room sitting on an uncomfortable dining room chair, even though I had to use force to separate myself from the chair back, even though I only slightly knew one of the performers that afternoon, I would do it again for a couple of reasons. First because it is always so magical to hear that moment when a player really connects with what they are playing. You can hear when they stop playing individual notes to a predetermined beat and start making music. You can see the stiffness fall away from their shoulders as they start to move with the music. Each student had that moment, and it was such fun to watch. Once they start to feel the music they will play for the rest of their lives. And second, it was an honor to watch and listen as Maria played to her father and to no one else, and to see him listen to her with complete adoration just like all those other parents had done hours earlier. He gave her music when she was young, and she gave him music to the end of his life. That kind of love is hard to see out o the streets where I spend my time. This intimacy happens in kitchens and living rooms and I am so grateful for the opportunity to share those moments.
Makes me think I should do something more with my dad. But there isn't a lot of music written for flute and tuba. Thank God. So I hope that it's enough to say thanks Dad, for putting music into my life.