PIANISSIMO

GROWING UP WITH A PIANO – STRIKE A CHORD

My mother believed that children needed not just food and a roof over their heads. We also needed culture. Art. Sculpture. Literature. Dance. Music. Moreover, a properly brought up young lady had to play an instrument.

She had grown up poor on the Lower East Side where so many immigrant groups settled after passing through Ellis Island. They didn’t have much. A tiny flat, two adults and six kids. And a piano.

No one knew where the piano came from, but it seemed to have always been there. There was no money for lessons, but my mother taught herself to play. Not brilliantly, but well enough to bang out a tune and sing along.

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When she and my father bought the house in which I grew up, a piano was the first major purchase. First a Baldwin spinet which fit neatly in a corner of the living room.

Eventually, I outgrew the spinet and for my 14th birthday, I got a Steinway living room grand.

Some of my best memories of childhood are little me, sitting on the piano bench with my mother as she sang. Mom sang all the time. Sang, hummed. Half the songs I know I learned because my mother sang them. I don’t think she realized she was singing. It was just her way.

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When I was four, my brother was deemed least likely to succeed at playing an instrument. He wasn’t completely tone-deaf, but pretty close. I, on the other hand, could pick out his music with two fingers, even though I was tiny and my feet were to short to get near the pedals. My piano teacher (formerly my brother’s piano teacher) said “Let him go play stickball. I want her.”

So began my musical career.

I was a small child. Thin, short, buck-toothed, wildly curly hair. Not a particularly pretty girl. I improved some with age. Classical beauty was never mine, but classical music was. If you had hands and gave it your heart and hands, the piano would love you in return, frizzy hair and all.

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I progressed quickly, though I was never as good technically as I needed to be. I was a good interpreter, but not a gifted performer.

The biggest problem were hands. Tiny hands. To this day, I can barely reach a 9th with either hand. Most classical music was written by men with big hands. I was at a disadvantage unless I was playing “small music” which fit my little paws. My favorite composers were Chopin and Beethoven, but I had to pick pieces to find those my hands could manage.

Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique” was my performance piece. It was a loud piece, one of the few that made the family shut up and listen. I never got used to being asked to perform, then having all the aunts engage in a lively discussion while I played. It’s a family thing, I suppose.

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I never conquered Beethoven, though I got close, sometimes. It was a struggle. I didn’t notice how much I was struggling until I got to Grieg piano sonata in e minor, Opus 7. I was 15 and it had yet to be recorded. My teacher thought I could be the one who did it.

NOTEIn the preceding performance by Glenn Gould, you hear only the first movement of this sonata. There are three more movements, totaling 28 pages of music. I like the later movements better. This is not one of the great piano performances because Gould played everything too fast.

I never worked so hard in my life as I did on that sonata. I practiced until I thought my hands would fall off and every once in a while, I managed to get it right. It was a big piece of music. After months of trying, I knew I would be almost good enough to perform that piece.

I majored in music at college for the first few years, but it wasn’t happening. Almost good enough in classical piano equals not good enough. Because for me, it was piano or nothing  — and I didn’t have it — it was over. I moved on.

I have a piano today. Electronic. The arthritis in my hands has stopped my playing, but music, especially classical, is embedded in my heart.

TURNING SUCCESS INTO FAILURE

Thinking Small, Rich Paschall

Some organizations think big and do big.  You may know such organizations.  You may wonder how they accomplish so much.  How can a social service agency, school, church, or park district pull off grand events with a small budget and a small staff?  Yet, there are quite a number that do it.  What is the difference between the successes and those that think big and fail?  What is the difference between thinking bag, and those who just think small?

Image: Mashable.com
Image: Mashable.com

Many think big but fail because they aren’t willing to do the work.  They want to be triumphant, but they are just hoping it will somehow happen. They rely on others stepping up to do what they should be doing.

The truth is that those running an event must step forward. They need to recruit volunteers to do what needs doing to guarantee success.  Some leaders are willing to do this, but many others rely on dumb luck. Dumb being the operative word. It’s the dedication to the task that’s important, not luck.

You have to work harder to find potential leaders and willing workers than in years past. So many things compete for our attention. Life is busier than it used to be … and then, there are the apps on our phones, tablets and laptops. We may not be willing to devote the large chunk of time required to make a successful event. If it took five calls to get two people to help out 20 years ago, maybe it takes 10 calls now. Or 20. Is the organization willing to do it?

In many cases, the answer is no.

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Being reliant on Facebook calls to action and church bulletin messages will likely get you nowhere.  It’s the personal touch that matters.

Text messages and email blasts don’t have the personal touch you need to win volunteers. We are in the digital age and can contact a lot of people quickly by email, social media, and text messaging, but it’s not a reliable road to success. Such messages get lost in the myriad messages that are posted every day.

So, we actually have to talk to people if we want to get their attention.  We have to pick up the phone.  We have to meet them at events.  We have to stand outside of Church, school, wherever and shake their hands.  Even in the digital age, or maybe exactly because of it, we must reach out to people personally, if we want to help a project meet its goal.

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Then there are those who think small from the start.  They see the modern-day task of making a success so daunting that they prefer not to tackle it at all.  These types of “leaders” obviously are not the ones who brought the organization along over the years, but they are certainly the ones to stall it in its tracks.  Saying it is too hard, or it can’t be done, or people will not step forward anymore is admitting defeat from the outset.  It is also proof that they are in the wrong business.  There is a choice to meet the challenge or run from it.  Some choose to run.  Let them go.

Recently, I was involved in an alumni event that found the organization itself dragging its feet on a number of issues.  When the night of the event came, after months of planning meetings, things did not go smoothly.  Nevertheless, it was the largest alumni event they’d in decades. Yes, decades.  Were they happy with this?

Because of its shortcomings, the pastor promptly declared it would have been better to run an event for 50 or 60 people than this event for 250 — which was much more work and went poorly. The pastor was upset.

Was it personal embarrassment?  No, because he didn’t work on it. Unfortunately, he was looking for ways to place blame rather than looking for how to make events better in the future.

People who step into leadership roles but who have little leadership experience, are likely to torpedo your efforts. Those who have their hands full already and see an event as too much additional work, will likely trip you up. Those who are afraid of embarrassment and will only accept success — never failure — will only minimally succeed. They’ve already set limits on their potential success. Worse, they have unknowingly limited the likely success of the organizations they are supposed to lead.

A SEASON OF LIGHTS: A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE

A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE: LIGHTS

From Nancy Merrill:

“With the Christmas season upon us, lights have become an important part of most people’s homes and cubicles at work. At the Draper City Park, this tree is the center point of their light display. To get this shot, I placed my tripod on the hill overlooking the tree and asked people to let me get a clear shot.”

From the archives, a few pictures full of lights. And very seasonal. They are among my all-time favorite pictures.