Flying in Adult Piano Lessons

Hector_Rodriguez_piano

This month’s profile is of Hector Rodriguez, who works as a pilot for JetBlue. As evident from the exclusive video of Hector playing at the end of this posting, he has accomplished unbelievable strides since striking his first note as an adult five years ago.

Name: Hector L. Rodriguez
Profession: Airline Pilot
Favorite Piano Music: Chopin’s Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat major
Aspirational Piano Music: As many of the Chopin Nocturnes as possible
Age Began the Piano: 38

What motivated you to start the piano at age thirty-eight?

The desire to play the piano was there since my early twenties. I was awed by piano music, especially classical because it tells a story. My neighbor, who had a keyboard and played classical music, gave me the nudge to begin playing. I taught myself initially—learning Beethoven’s “Pathetique: Adagio Cantabile” and “Moonlight Sonata” note-by-note. It was basically rote memorization. It was a long and arduous process to learn just one piece.

Listening to Chopin’s Prelude in E-minor motivated me to learn how to play it properly. It seemed relatively easy to learn yet still possessed a poetic quality. You could say that Chopin’s ability to transcribe the melancholic ethos of his time into classical piano music steered me into learning the proper way to play. There are certain piano skills that need to be taught by a professional and that’s where my teacher, Cosmo Buono, stepped in. A friend of mine was one of Cosmo’s students.

So in your adult piano lessons you have focused on Chopin’s music.

I tend to gravitate towards melancholy tunes; hence my choosing Chopin and in particular his Nocturnes. Although captivating, Chopin Nocturnes are difficult because they require precise movements coupled with varying tempos. My aim is to first learn the fingering, then onto the specific tempos. The tempos can be varied depending on how I feel on that particular day; that I learned from Cosmo.

Tell us about your practice regime.

I live in a typical New York City studio apartment, so having a grand piano or even a baby grand is out of the question. I practice on my Yamaha 88-key keyboard; it’s perfect for my apartment. My piano aspirations are nothing more than properly playing a piece for myself or for a few friends. Although performing may be critical to learning, I have no desire to perform on stage. So, I approach playing and my lessons purely as a hobby. I tailor my lesson based on how motivated I am to learn a piece and my busy work schedule. I usually practice every other morning and will occasionally go over pieces that I have already learned just to keep the mind and fingers in sync.

In what ways is your piano avocation similar to your vocation as a pilot?

Playing the piano is similar in some aspects to flying a plane because it requires processing information and commanding your body to realize a desired result. The critical phase of landing an airplane, for example, requires knowledge of your airplane, the runway, the wind, and other weather variables in order to get the smoothest result. After mastering the basics, you rely on feel to perfect the landing. That’s how I envision mastering a Chopin nocturne; after mastering the music sheet, you rely on feel to capture your audience.

Do you ever see a day when you would no longer play the piano?

I am committed to never stopping. Even if I only play in my imagination, I will never stop.

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