Read Netherlands – part 1 here
I woke up excited. This was the day that I was to meet the pianist who I’d been corresponding with – online – for some years. I went with my friend to breakfast and left him at 10:30am in order to make my journey into Utrecht. The friend with whom I stayed startled me that morning by revealing that he wouldn’t be meeting me in Utrecht and the thought of making the return journey made me a bit nervous but I decided to go through with it, anyway.
With the help of google maps, I was able to make my way to Utrecht’s central station with 5 minutes to spare. My phone bleeped informing me that the pianist, Jake*, was waiting by the station’s piano. I became a bit nervous and a part of me wondered whether meeting someone whose face I hadn’t even seen was unwise. It took me awhile to find the piano but I spotted it after walking in the wrong direction, initially, and made my way over. As promised, he was there and greeted me profusely. His accent betrayed his northern English roots and I found it a bit comforting to have a taste of home in the strange land.
He surprised me by giving me an impromptu tour of the City – informing me about some of the history as well as showing me the important sites. I was enthralled and managed to get some nice shots such as the one I show below.
We spoke about a number of things but as you’d expect, the conversation repeatedly returned to music. He expressed the opinion that age discrimination occurred in the classical world and though I did weakly challenge the opinion, I did relent that young attractive virtuosi seemed to dominate the sphere for certain instruments. He seemed particularly surprised that I considered myself obese and seemed honest when positively appraising my appearance. Somewhat bemused, I accepted the compliment but commented that the scales didn’t lie. I soon began to tire as we’d been walking for some hours and perhaps due to the fatigue coming across on my voice or because the sky had begun to grey, he announced that we would be finally heading to his place.
He had a respectable Yamaha Baby Grand outfitted with a silent piano system. My eyes drew to it as soon as I entered his abode – my inner musician fangirling wildly over the velvet black gloss of the instrument. He poured us some drinks and asked me to play anything.
There weren’t any complete pieces that I felt comfortable playing and I’d previously warned him about this so I began with one of the pieces I’d started learning last year – Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major – K322. I started the piece confidently but begin to falter on the second page when my memory began to fail and I had to rely on my abysmal sight reading skills to continue. He stopped me as he’d heard all he needed to. “You’re good!” he remarked, in surprise. “You’re a lot better than you’ve let on in email”. I blushed in response because all I could focus on were the mistakes I’d made. I protested and then started playing the other Mozart piano Sonata I’d started and quit (No. 8 in A minor KV 310) to demonstrate my inferior skill.
He stopped me prematurely this time before I’d gotten to the bits which proved to be too difficult to play. He remarked that I was doing a few things wrongly. He explained that for one thing, I was wrong to begin the sonata with a piano dynamic as Mozart sonatas – unless otherwise stated – should always begin forte. It was the first time I’d heard of such a rule and I cocked my eyebrow in incredulity. But he was right. In his edition of the sonatas, most of them had a f in-between the clefs at the start of the pieces. He also commented that I played somewhat languid and too tentatively which resulted in the fiery nature of the piece being missed. He sat next to me on the twin piano stool and demonstrated one suitable interpretation of the opening bars. After he got up to allow me access to the centre of the piano, I mimicked what he’d played – trying to apply his advice whilst also retaining a sense of *me* in the playing.
When I’d completed the passage, I wasn’t sure whether there was much of a difference but Jack clearly thought as much. He said that I’d applied his instruction perfectly in one go – something that might have taken a lesser-abled student several attempts to get. I felt hints of self-pride begin to form and realised that perhaps visiting was what I needed.
I played other bits of pieces for him such as Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, The Chopin Nocturne in E minor and the Mozart Sonata in C K545. His praises were many and he had but a few criticisms. He was not pleased that in the Nocturne, instead of reading the piece, I was figuring out the bass by feeling around with my fingers. He explained that this was a rather poor habit. He noticed also the common problem of the beginnings of my pieces being disproportionately more secure than the rest and suggested starting from the end of pieces and taking things section-by-section to combat the problem.
As well as reviewing and critiquing my playing, he also played some new works and with his help, I was able to decide what piano music I would next add to my repertoire. We analysed a composition of mine, he demonstrated the difficulties of the Chopin Ballade no 1 (as I thought I might try to work on the piece slowly) and even listened to me sing! It was a good and cheerful few hours – full of music and good conversation. I left his company inspired to play again and full of confidence about my musical potential.
My friend met me at his local train station and once we were indoors, we watched “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with his housemate. It was quirky and not quite my cup of tea but it was certainly interesting and I could tell it was good – even if I didn’t personally find it entertaining.
*not his real name