Return To The Heart

Eveline, Vienna 1997

The above picture shows one of the two most influential people in my life (outside of family). Eveline was my piano teacher throughout my childhood and adolescence, and later became a dear friend. She taught me pretty much everything I know about the piano and was an amazing teacher. And when I was in my 20s, we’d frequently visit each other and go on adventures, “stalking” our favourite pianists, slipping into rehearsals where we had no business being present, and sneaking into the back entrance of concert halls to get a handshake and perhaps an autograph (Eveline), and basically faint from being so smitten (me).

I’ll never forget her. She had vast knowledge, strong opinions, and a dry, deadpan sense of humour that still cracks me up whenever I think back. There’s been an Eveline-shaped hole in my heart ever since her untimely death in 2011.

Music is one of the few constants in my life. Being a multi-passionate, I’ve often moved from one shiny thing to the next, and still do. But I’ve always loved music and I’ve always loved the piano more than anything else in the world. If anyone had told me when I was growing up, that there would be a time, years even, without me even practising, I’d have laughed at them.

To put this in context: When I almost died of pneumonia at 19 and was only released from hospital for Easter on the condition that I strictly kept to my bed, I waited until my parents went out grocery shopping, and then staggered to my piano to play. Years later, when I had a broken shoulderblade, I took my arm out of the sling bandage so I could practice, until there was an audible “crack” and jarring pain. I could literally not live without playing. It was my life.

The picture of Eveline was taken in a flat in Vienna where I lived for a few months after getting my M.A. in Frankfurt. I spent the summer there before moving on to Romania to teach at two universities in Iasi. My most important criterion for choosing a flat was that it had to have a piano. This is me at the place in Vienna, probably playing my favourite piece of all time, a Nocturne by Chopin:

In Vienna, 1997

But it all started way earlier. Here’s me at around age 14 or so, practising with my school friend Sandra, also one of Eveline’s pupils. We often played four-handed pieces together.

Sandra (foreground) and me at the piano, ca. 1984

I always had a piano, although I didn’t always practise very regularly, for example during the last years of my M.A. when I was working to make ends meet and studying at the same time. But I never gave up on it. I needed that sensual feeling of the cool keys under my hands, and the full-body experience of playing, the keys with my hands and the pedals with my feet.

Until the early 2000s, when I ran into financial trouble – you may have heard the story – and couldn’t even afford having a piano any longer. Then came the move back to Ireland and working 16 hours a day to dig myself out (which I managed, by the way), and after that followed the depression and the “dark years”, when my only ray of light was coaching and my inspiring clients, as well as the coaching qualification I got.

And then I re-emerged in 2015 and began the long journey of healing. Like I said in my last post: I’m amazed that three years later, I’m still putting together the pieces. I feel like this is the last one, the most important one.

Many years ago, and once again in my magic city Vienna, I discovered the best pianos in the world. This is completely subjective – there are quite a few excellent brands, and which one a player prefers, depends pretty much on personal taste. When I first touched an August Förster piano, I fell in love, instantly and irrevocably. It’s got the most amazing attack/”feel” to it, soft as velvet and yet crystal clear, and it sounds, oh man, out of this world.

Here’s my dream piano:

Piano by August Förster

The problem is that it costs about 14,000 EUR. Which isn’t expensive, by the way. These pianos are built by hand by highly trained craftsmen in an insanely painstaking process. It’s worth every cent, but I still don’t have 14 grand lying around, as my dear Inga puts it. So I thought I’d get to it after I buy my own house and can save up for something else again.

The point of this post – yes, there is one! – is that I realised I can’t afford to put off playing any longer, just because I can’t afford the piano of my dreams just yet. I’ll still buy it one day, perhaps 3-5 years from now, but I need to get back into practising, and pronto. I need to, if I want to have any hope of recovering a degree of my lost skill. And I definitely need to in order to complete the healing of my heart and soul and life. Nothing matters more than this.

And so I started researching and found that there’s a small but fine and very well-run piano store just down the road in Athenry! Where I found a decent, beautifully restored second-hand piano for just over two grand. It’ll do me very well for recovering my skill and practising for the next few years.

I’m no longer waiting for life to happen. I’m alive now. When I move out (and hopefully into my own place), I’ll pay for professional transport of the piano. It’s affordable, and worth it. And I’m practically vibrating with excitement and anticipation. Pictures will follow once it’s arrived!

For now, here’s the piano I learned to play on, in my parent’s house. Another excellent German manufacturer (just like Förster), Schimmel.

Me at my parents’, with my gorgeous old Schimmel piano

Soon, I’ll be complete again.

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Vienna By Night

Wien bei Nacht (Vienna By Night), by Reinhard Fendrich

(pleeeaaaaase, read to the end, this isn’t just about one subject)

Being a bird person, I’m not talking about “birthing” something when I describe a new thing I bring into the world. No, it feels more like I’m a hen sitting on her eggs, incubating not a fluffy feathery chick (although, come to think of it… they are very cute), but my own work.

I’m all kinds of fed up.

I’m also all kinds of happy and on fire with joy.

It’s one heck of a mix, I’m telling ya. So the story is, I’m carrying this amazing message into the world, of doing what lights you up and not just thinking about it and going: “One day, I’ll…” and shit, but actually feeling the joy of putting it into practice. And it’s transformational for my clients and a huge privilege for me to witness and help with.

But. It’s not happening fast enough. I’m not a patient hag. I’ve dreamt for long enough, I need this stuff to manifest already, dammit (I feel like this cartoon of the buddhist whose apprentice goes: “Come on, blissful detachment – I haven’t got all day!”). Most importantly, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m capable of so much more.

Coaching is the way it is for a reason. That reason is because it just works. And yet, there are new ways being discovered all the time, and I’m an innovator by nature. It’s dangerous to come into a new discipline and try to revolutionise it all before learning the ins and outs of the existing system, but I’m rather familiar and comfortable with the coaching toolkit and so I feel ready to… well… break new ground.

I currently have a week off work and it’s frustrating because I know I need at least another week to even begin developing this. There’s nothing worse than never getting to what I need to do! This is exactly why I’ve talked about growing my biz for so long and up to about six months ago, never really taken consistent action.

This is it, and I’m announcing it to the world:

You’re going to see (even) less of me for the coming year. I’ll be working almost all the time. By autumn of 2019, if I haven’t made significant progress in my business that makes it feasible that I’ll be able to live off it without a daytime job at some point, I’ll make a change.

Because I no longer want to never have time to spare for people I love. If it doesn’t work, I’ll either stick with my job, or go freelance, or think of something, but I won’t work as much anymore. That’s a promise.

Until then, though, I’ll disappear. And here’s where I hope my friends won’t give up on me. It means I may miss the occasional party. The Gort Community Markets (which kinda died this summer, but are now thankfully being picked up by a bunch of amazing people who’re making a go of it). Workshops, gigs, gatherings. Please don’t forget me, I’m still here. And keep inviting me – if I can make it, I’ll come. And you’re always welcome here, as long as I know a few days in advance. Deal?

To stay sane, I’ll keep walking my talk and working on my own passions, and I’ll also break the 1 1/2 years of no holidays anywhere by actually going to Vienna in March. I know it’s a few months still but gods I’m so bloody excited, I could jump up and down all day! I can’t even begin to describe the emotions flooding me. So many memories. So much I’d clean forgotten in the “dark years”, things that are part of me, of the fabric of my very soul. Music, mostly. In March, I’ll hear Kissin in the Musikverein and see a stellar production of Figaro in the State Opera. Oh gods, I can’t wait.

Check out one of my favourite recordings of Kissin:

Evgeny Kissin playing Liszt’s piano transcription of the Schubert song “Gretchen am Spinnrade”

I’ll write more about Vienna next time, suffice it to say that I can’t believe I’ve existed so long without visiting. This used to be my life. I dislike cities usually, but this is one’s akin to the love of my life. Pure ecstasy.

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