People sometimes ask me why I gave up performing. And until now, I always said that I didn’t fully understand it. I knew I had dreamed of becoming a great pianist since I was five years old, and that I had followed that dream as far as it took me, into a rewarding performing career. And I knew that when I discovered a new physical approach to the piano that instantly improved my students’ playing, I switched my main career focus to teaching. I remember how my students’ faces lit up every day that week, as they suddenly heard themselves playing more beautifully. And I remember the moment at one of those lessons when I saw light bulbs flashing in my head and realized I had something really important to teach. The next thing I knew, I was canceling a concert I had scheduled in Chicago, I stopped pursuing concert dates altogether, and I was giving a lot of talks to musicians called The Art of Practicing.
All of this made a lot of sense to me. But recently, I decided to look back into my childhood to see if I could find any indication that teaching would eventually become my true calling. And I remembered that when I was 13, a magazine arrived at our house, in our sheltered, little, white suburb in California, and that the cover story of the magazine opened up a whole world for me that I had never heard of.
It was LIFE magazine – a wonderful, weekly publication that unfortunately no longer exists. On its cover was the sweet, smiling face of a 12-year-old boy named Flavio who lived in a shack with his parents and seven siblings in dire poverty in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Through the efforts of this journalist, money had been raised to bring him to the United States for medical treatment for a severe lung ailment – possibly tuberculosis – and to help create a better life for everyone in the slum he came from.
As a middle-class teenager in California, I had no idea that people lived anywhere in tiny shacks with dirt floors. The article mentioned that when a dog bit the leg of Flavio’s little brother, his mother grabbed a bottle of alcohol, poured it on his leg, and quickly went back to the rest of the miserable daily hardships of caring for her family.
Shocking photos accompanied this article, showing Flavio’s life in the filthy slum, in which, as his parents’ oldest child, he had to earn pennies to feed them their rice and beans every day because his father had injured his back and could earn only $20 a month. But on the magazine’s cover, Flavio wore clean, new pajamas, print on a white background, that were given to him at the hospital he was taken to in America. Just as I had suddenly become aware of a world like his, he had now been introduced to a world like mine. I was completely stunned by the contrast.
I wished that I could bring Flavio to the beautiful house I lived in with my family and show him all of our modern conveniences. So I pretended that he was there with me, and I walked through the rooms showing him everything I had previously taken for granted. “Look!” I said out loud. “These are called faucets. You just move the handle like this and fresh water comes out!” I went on to show him the stove, with its miraculous burners that turned on as easily as the faucets, and the big, shiny brown refrigerator, with so many kinds of delicious food in it. I imagined Flavio’s face lighting up with amazement and delight.
That day, I gave birth to a new dream. I dreamed I would someday introduce someone else to an easier and happier way of life, beyond anything they had ever known. I was excited for Flavio that he had come to America, and for the first time, I dreamed of one day adopting a baby and giving it a life it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Thirty-two years later my husband and I did adopt a baby, and she is now 17 and thriving. But I also realize now that my passion for teaching comes from this same place of wanting to see others enjoy things that I am fortunate to possess already. This desire has become the strongest motivating factor in my life.
I know I am extraordinarily fortunate to have received not only excellent piano training in my youth but also training in mindfulness-awareness meditation for many years from a true master teacher. And I feel even luckier that I have been able to blend these two magnificent traditions, of Western classical music and Eastern meditation, into an approach to practice and performance that has helped many people. When a musician who has been struggling for years to find an easier way to play her instrument suddenly discovers it right in front of me, I feel wonderful, warm energy spread through my body. She may not be as desperately in need of help with her playing as Flavio and his family were in need of help with their basic material existence. She may not be suffering from debilitating stage fright or from a practice-related injury. She may in fact already be quite accomplished on her instrument and enjoy performing. But she may also wonder if she could play better – if she could come closer to the kind of playing she admires in the greatest performers, those rare few who somehow shine brighter onstage than others do.
The first time this musician works with me she may discover a simple, new physical or musical technique that works as easily as turning on a faucet and suddenly having cold or hot water run freely. Just as suddenly, her playing suddenly flows more easily than before. At the same time, ease and confidence in practice and performance develop and deepen a lot over time, and if she goes further with this new approach, she may actually begin to live in the new world of possibilities she discovered when she first tried it. When that happens, I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction – that I am fulfilling my true purpose, using all of my talents and training, to help someone else become the musician they’re meant to be.
Whether you are an amateur or a professional, if you’re ready to open the door to new musical possibilities for yourself, I invite you to set up a free consultation with me, in person or on Skype. I’d love to hear about your particular dream as a musician, and to talk with you about how you could make that dream a reality.
I wish you much joy and success.
P.S. If you don’t live in or near New York but would like to take me up on my invitation, consultations and lessons on Skype – or Zoom or FaceTime – are very effective. Several pianists, and other musicians, have been working with me online for a long time. So don’t let distance stop you!