Levitating with Scales in Adult Piano Lessons

Two videos for this posting: First, my piano teacher, Stephen Wu, playing the D-major scale with incredible rapidity.

. . .and now the first part of the Appassionata’s second movement, performed by the 20th century, Chilean concert pianist, Claudio Arrau.  I like the close-up views of Arrau’s hands, the fingers crossing over one another, then exchanging places on a key in order to create legato.

My lesson over, I wandered down the university’s basement corridor of practice rooms. A few doors down, practicing scales, was a Russian exchange student from The Moscow Conservatory.  Orange flyers posted at both ends of the hallway announced his upcoming performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata.

His hands whisked up the piano, then halfway back down, until they separated in a contrary motion to crest at the keyboard’s opposite ends. Without a pause, he rippled his hands back towards the center. I leaned my forehead against the glass. I played scales at one-eighth of his conservatory pace.

My mind traveled back to Tucson, where in first grade, Michelle and I had walked home from school, lugging our coats in the Sonoran Desert’s warm winter afternoons.  One day, Michelle and I spread our coats on the sidewalk, sat down cross-legged with our metal lunch boxes, and commanded the coats to fly us away. We did not budge.

Even at a young age, I had sought to flee the acrimony and conflict in my home. During my adolescence I found reprieve in my classical piano music.  My mother practiced her own Chopin and Grieg music, yet the piano seemed to underscore her sense of deprivation.  I wondered whether the piano had been one of the ways Mom had never satisfied her own mother, a member of the tribe of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

My father, who downed glasses of red wine every night after chugging a six-pack, prohibited me from practicing when he was at home. My parents disliked each other with a startling intensity.  In the strains of my classical piano music, my father may have heard my mother’s taunting criticisms.

Now I stared transfixed at the Russian’s hands. After my parents had burdened the piano with so many antagonistic representations, the Russian student playing the scales with such pure concentration was a relief to me. I wanted to play scales at his rapid tempo, with the same ease and skill.

As if sensing my presence, the Russian turned around. The stark look on his face surprised me. Embarrassed to be caught with my nose pressed against the glass of his practice room, I waved. He gave a curt nod, then turned back to the piano. I considered that he was experiencing a good stress, a decisiveness in the midst of pressure. With reluctance I moved away.

My boot soles scraped against dirt on the floor. The corridor’s tiles were grimy, the orange upholstery on the practice room chairs outdated, and the pianos twanging out of tune, yet I loved coming here for my adult piano lessons. It was as though my old, burly coat finally had levitated an inch off the sidewalk.  Perhaps now I could fly away and leave Tucson behind.

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