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 16 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. 1986

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 including transport to Ireland. 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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11 thoughts on “Return To The Heart

  1. Ruth

    Music makes us whole, it creates a sense of togetherness and inspiration. To me it is like a divine language, it touches our soul and makes us dance. I am so happy for you that you are bringing the pieces of your life together. Wish I was there to hear you. Enjoy!

    1. That’s a beautiful way of putting it! I’ve always thought that music is the closest to the divine that we can get.
      One day I hope we’ll meet up again and maybe we’ll even get to make some music 🙂 But I *really* need to practice a lot first, haha!

  2. I’m so happy that your passion for piano and music will soon be a reality again with your own piano. It’s like coming home when you return to an old passion lost because of other factors in life.

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