Wednesday, June 29, 2005

SHAKESPEARE'S SISTER writes movingly and quite beautifully about memory, how fingers and hands can remember even when the intellect does not, and how healing it can be to let go of the world's expectations and just play it as you feel it.

I took piano lessons when I was young, and was told I’d never be a virtuoso because I have small hands. It was a correct assessment; I’m not very good at all at the classics, as it turns out. I struggle to reach an octave chord, and though I would love to play Rachmaninov, it will never be; he had a hand span that would be the envy of any NBA player. For many years, I didn’t play much at all.

At university, navigating year three of the bad years, and running low on excuses to offer concerned professors who wondered why I regularly showed up to class with cuts and bruises, I wandered down to the basement of the student union one night and found, shoved in a closet behind a cobwebbed ping-pong table, an old and dilapidated upright piano. I dragged it out into the room, and sat down in front of it, running my hands over its chipped keys. After a moment, I started to play. It wasn’t Rachmaninov; it wasn’t even Billy Joel. I closed my eyes and listened to the music as if someone else were playing it, letting my hands do whatever they wanted to do. It was a glorious sound, and the size of my hands didn’t matter.

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