Thursday, September 24, 2009


Do certain pieces of music remind you of certain times in your life? When Alison wrote about Bach’s Partita in b-minor, the “French Overture” I felt transported back in time, to the fall of 1996. 

I was teaching piano full time, at two different schools at opposite ends of the city. One day a week, I attended classes at music college, trying to get a dissertation off the ground. My mother was dying, and the entire family was having a hard time.

One evening, I unexpectedly had 30 minutes off before directing a choir rehearsal. I hadn’t played solo for ever. I took a volume of Bach from the shelf, leafed through it, and started to read through the French Ouverture, just to see what it was. Such beauty, such gorgeous music - this was what I REALLY wanted to spend my time with. Despite my degrees in music education and piano I had the feeling that there was a big hole at the center of my skills and knowledge: I hardly ever managed “to be in the music” when I played, and especially when I performed. 

The struggle with the dissertation had put an end to my daily practicing. This made me miserable. I was still doing some accompanying, but didn’t find that very satisfying.  

My mother’s dying was slow and painful. It took almost another year until she passed away. During these trying times, learning the French Ouverture became my life line. I had never been able to memorize the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, my favorite music. I was determined to do it this time - and I did. 

In the little spare time I had - mostly while traveling on public transport between the two music schools, music college and my parents’ house -  I was reading a book, Seymour Bernstein’s “With your own two hands”. The connection between practicing music and “real life” is a major topic in this book. I found it tremendously helpful and encouraging. 

A few weeks after my mother’s passing, I played the French Ouverture for Seymour Bernstein. This was the beginning of studying with him. My dissertation never got finished, but I discovered how to “be in the music” when I play the piano. 

The magical formula he gave me was : “Don’t think, listen and feel”. It works not only at the piano, but in real life as well.   

Sometimes, it takes a painful experience to put you in touch with what you really need, and sad endings can lead to powerful new beginnings.


1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you had that moment and made those decisions, Birgit, because it brought you to where you are today and to being my teacher!