Wednesday, March 2, 2016

In Search of a Steinway

Last weekend, I stood before an audience to introduce the third of four concerts by Lana Genc, a classical pianist visiting from Croatia for her first US performance tour. I had organized two of the concerts--publicity and all--at the Arts Club of Washington and An die Musik in Baltimore.
Lana played beautifully, coaxing melodic harmonies of Chopin and Bach from aging ivories, garnering compliments and swelling my heart with devotion and pride. She captivated audiences not only with music but also with smile, presence, grace and confidence.
(Photo by Chris Farmer)
I truly enjoyed supporting her efforts to make a splash on the US music scene. Together, we put her local performances on the map--on calendars, on flyers, on the internet, and into the consciousness of music fans. We attracted decent crowds in Washington, Baltimore, and Alexandria, Virginia.

Quite an accomplishment, given that, as of last November, the classical concert world was new to me--and Steinways are not easy to find. The realm of music, however, was old hat. I had been singing and strumming since 5 years old, when I first picked out "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on a toy piano. Music was in my blood! Well, why not; my mother played accordion and organ and taught me to waltz in our living room.
Even classical composers were not complete strangers. I played violin in school orchestras, rising to the position of First Violin, and quitting only when public funding ended. (Marching band continued, of course.) Switching to organ--because there was one in our home--I discovered that my left and right hands were uncoordinated. Besides, I never could wrap my brain around that pesky treble clef--just where were those notes on the keyboard, anyway?
Fortunately, my uncle came to the rescue with a cheap guitar. I spent many enjoyable hours teaching myself to play scales and strum along with Peter, Paul and Mary. I babysat every Saturday to buy a decent $80 guitar, in 1973. I still have it.

In college, I skipped classes to practice "Stairway to Heaven" and "Time in a Bottle" with good-lookin' frat boys boasting names like Fast Eddie. I signed up for classical guitar class, which I barely passed because the final exam required playing in front of a crowd, and in those days I was way too shy.

By the time I got a full-time job, I had a good grounding in musical instruments. Like many a career professional, however, I gave up music for a long, long time. It wasn't until retirement that I picked up the old guitar and dug my harmonicas out of storage. Before long, I was singing in Cajun jams and getting coached in Piedmont-style blues.

When Lana--a fellow member of my international yoga organization, Yoga in Daily Life--contacted us about visiting our yoga center in Alexandria, I was ready to launch another musical adventure. And what an adventure it was! I learned about classical compositions and quality of pianos, attended a lovely embassy concert and reception, and got up close and personal with an accomplished professional. (Look at those right fingers flying.)
She never stopped practicing, nimble and sure: three hours a day on borrowed pianos, other times in her head, and in the car on the way to Baltimore.
My appreciation for classical composers and accomplished pianists grew enormously when I sat up close during a house concert, a few feet behind the keys. She referred to the historic piano, inherited from ancestors, as an "old gentleman" that required gentle nurturing--yet the old gentleman survived--and perhaps even grew stronger?--as she pounded out the strong riffs and chords. When Lana plays, she takes a deep breath and pours her soul into the music. At that distance, the power and glory of Rachmaninoff came through loud and clear!
Above all, I made a dear friend--a talented, lovely and loving woman who not only plays piano but practices yoga and meditation, who graced us with her presence on her journey to a higher world of consciousness, music and potential stardom.
(Photo by Chris Farmer)

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