When I was young, my grandfather often told us grandchildren stories of when he was a kid. One of my favorites was the tale of his only piano lesson. As a child, “Pop Pop” was fascinated with piano music, particularly the work of the “poet of the piano”, Frederic Chopin. This, coming from a hungry kid who grew up in Camden, New Jersey during the Great Depression, fixing broken toys from the town landfill to call his own, and who never went to college.
His father worked for RCA Victor (maker of the Victrola phonograph) and sometimes brought home records to play. Pop Pop’s favorite was a recording of Joseph Lhevinne performing Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise in A-flat. He loved it so much, one day he went to have a piano lesson and asked the instructor to teach him the piece. “Perhaps one day…” was the reply. Crestfallen, my grandfather returned home, confounded with why this masterpiece was impossible to learn in one sitting.
Like his father before him, Pop Pop worked for RCA, as did my father after him. Like Pop Pop, I too grew up listening to classical piano music and particularly enjoyed works by Chopin. Twice a year, I performed in my teacher’s piano studio recitals and my grandfather never missed one. It was a proud day when I performed a lengthy Chopin waltz as a middle-schooler: that night I felt as though - in a way - I had earned my place on this earth and truly received the gift of life given to me. I had absorbed the beautiful creation of another into my spirit, and sought to recreate this for others. I didn’t realize it at the time, but experiences like these gradually gave me confidence to pursue the study of something I loved, and helped me choose what to formally study in college and pursue as a career.
“From a self-made man who cared about his grandchildren, to one who had high respect for beautiful music, my grandfather modeled what he felt was an invaluable part in living.”
Once I reached high school, Pop Pop brought out his old Lhevinne record and said, “Here, I want you to have it.” At that moment I felt both gratitude for our family heritage, and also a part of a greater legacy. From a self-made man who cared about his grandchildren, to one who had high respect for beautiful music, my grandfather modeled what he felt was an invaluable part in living. To this day, when I hear Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise, I am reminded of Pop Pop’s love for music and why I decided to become a musician. He has been gone from our family for a decade now, and when I miss him I find peace in so many memories of the stories he told us. And when I recall his great love of music, I like to hope he lived vicariously through my recitals growing up.
Perhaps you too can think of a memory or story in your life associated with a particular piece of music, one which has created special moments for you. Is there music which has brought you genuine comfort, healing and peace? What other alternative sources of inspiration have helped you to discover inner harmony?