How Music Can Rekindle Your Creative Sense of Wonder

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

I spent an entire weekend in Miami among thousands of people who claimed to be music lovers.

And they behaved in many ways like music lovers – gathering with excitement, talking about the artists, getting dressed up to go to the concerts, etc.

Over dinner, I overheard some talk about the concerts.

“Dude, those fireworks were awesome!”

“You gotta follow that band now, they crushed it last night.”

“There must’ve been a couple of thousand people that showed up.”

I think of myself as a music lover.  But there is an enormous difference between them and me.

If I shut the sound off in my head, what I see are crowds of people eagerly chasing something that will dazzle them, wow them and take them to a heightened sensory experience of life.  Something that is anchored by 3 days of solid music, but to my eye, is designed to stimulate the senses, and does not engage them beyond encouraging stadium sized frenzied crowd responses.

Is that music, really?

While I do share their love for music, I am drawn to another kind of experience.

I pulled out a playlist I have been working on to hear the music that never fails to open up a world of wonder for me.

After many years of not listening to classical music, I discovered recordings and photos of Vladimir Ashkenazy, a Russian pianist my piano teacher adored.  In my memory, he was one of a group of older pianists, always pictured in a grand concert hall by an elegant grand piano.  And always playing Chopin.

Something in one of his photos fascinated me.  He was not by a piano, he was simply looking up at something and smiling, as if he was about to laugh.

It was his eyes.  I wondered what he was seeing.  And what he was hearing.

I found a few Youtube videos of him talking about music, about Rachmaninoff and the mysterious Russian soul of his music, about Western music, what great music gives us, and finally, his recording of a Chopin Ballade I have been tinkering with on and off since I was in music school..

What I heard brought tears to my eyes.  It changed my world.  Again.

What moved me?

He delivered on his promise.  To bring out the highest expression of what it means to be human through music created by great composers.

He understood his purpose.  He could play a piece by Chopin, Beethoven, or Rachmaninoff a hundred times, and there will always be something he will find that he could express in a new and different way.  Something he insisted on doing with a freshness in his approach each time to share with people.

He knew who was listening.  

“For some people, it means nothing.  You try to bring something to them and they say, ‘Oh, that’s very nice, but I like this one, I like that one, I like some popular piece, this or that…’ ” he said, “Nothing happens.  So it is not everybody that would and will respond.

But those who do, will never regret it.

Those who begin to understand how much it offers you from a person whose height of our existence – of knowledge of our existence – was so high, so important, those people, say from Bach to Shostakovitch, they gave us so much of the understanding of what we are, what we are for, what is it in us, what we are trying to do with our existence.

People become musicians or go to lots of concerts, become music lovers, because it gives so much to our lives.”

What brought tears to my eyes?

I also found myself feeling a sense of despair.  Of wondering if I was doing what I was destined to do with as much clarity and success as he did.  Of sensing regret for making decisions that led me away from what my purpose is.  Of doubting myself.

But here’s what changed my world.

Vladimir Ashkenazy spoke very simply about music and the beauty in his life.  He practices the piano every day.  He is married for a long time to his wife, also a pianist, with whom he has a wonderful family.

“My wife is Icelandic.  We’ve been married 55 years by now. Not bad, 55. Good number.”

And his eyes are always open to discover new depths, new expressions of the fullest human experience with all of its emotions in the music he loves to share with people who are listening.  Even if it is one person, what a wonderful gift that is.

That person, in this moment, is me.

And rather than be despondent about what I think I should be, could be, would be doing if only……. I am grateful for this beautiful music illuminating the beauty that is in my life, my daily art practice, my family and sharing my rediscovered creative curiosity as a gift every day.  Like Ashkenazy and all creative people, my work is to share that experience of wonder with someone else.

This is my purpose and it is for you, who are listening with an open heart.

Here’s the Chopin Ballade, No. 1 Op. 23 from my playlist. Close your eyes and let it light up your soul.

Share it with someone you love.



Why Skype Sounds Flat

At one point in my life my sister and I had studied classical piano in New York City for over a decade, from an age where all we could do was swing our legs from the piano bench and barely grasp a chord with our chubby little hands to restless college students armed with enough repertoire to take auditions in three musical cities – Paris, Salzburg and Perugia.

It was time to go to the cradle of classical music and learn the European way.

What did that mean?

  • Getting a visa
  • Getting approval from our colleges
  • Requesting an audition date in three conservatories
  • Preparing repertoire
  • Budgeting for a year abroad for two
  • Taking a crash course in German, we had four years of high school French and we figured Italian wouldn’t be as difficult as German.
  • Not knowing where we would be accepted

And that was before we even left the ground.

We were accepted in Salzburg and we fell in love with this beautiful city. So, now we had to:

  • Learn German schnell! We actually learned more Salzburg dialect than German so to this day I sound like a Bavarian local when I speak.
  • Find a place to live
  • Register for classes at the Mozarteum
  • Try not to get lost
  • Try not to eat too much sacher torte
  • Take piano lessons in German

What I really learned

The decision to do this was purely impulsive and reckless. Both of our colleges had no formal abroad program with this reknown music school. We had no idea how many credits we would be awarded when we returned.

But our plan was strategic and well thought out in the same way our musical education was. There were foundation studies, etudes, sonatas, scales and music theory that slowly over time created an inner universe of music. Complex pieces of music we learned and memorized at a young age became part of our growing muscle memory to be coaxed out as we matured.

That is how I memorized thirty two Beethoven Sonatas. Before I knew how to drive.

Music lessons are not about acquiring the skill to play an instrument, or to sing. Music lessons are journeys into a realm of expression that your soul can hear. This is why the decision to pick up and go to the birthplace of Mozart and classical music was indisputable in our minds. To live and play music in this rarified city where people consider music their cultural heritage was a tremendous part of the experience.

Schubert, Schumann on Skype?

I found this intriguing YouTube video on Pamela Slim’s blog in a post she wrote about how to break a big goal into smaller steps. It reminded me of how my sister and I reached our goal of studying music in Europe. OK, time to confess – as I was watching how the teacher went over step by step how to teach webcam music lessons with Skype, I was disappointed. Not once did he actually play the keys of the piano, only his keyboard.


Here is another video I found on Arianne Segerman’s blog about someone who loves to play with fire and bang on metal. She is in love with creating beautiful things by hand that can be worn as jewelry. Another soul that craves the connection of the immediate.  Try Skyping the touch of silver on your skin.
There are some things in life that do not travel well. Souffles, jello, Baked Alaska, ice sculpture, and yes, piano lessons are things best experienced no more than an octave away.

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