Sometimes when I play the piano, I get a feeling that the music connects me to something so much more than my human mind can comprehend. I remember a piano lesson I had in 1971 with Charles Crowder, the teacher who shaped me. I nearly worshipped him. I loved his hands, his cardigan sweaters, his bushy eyebrows, and even his ability to smoke and play at the same time. He was an artist-teacher-therapist who told my mother that it was his goal to light the fire in me. He worked and worked to draw me out of my shy self. We had side-by-side grand pianos and he would play with me to help me let go into the keys. When I played scales, he played them in the contrary direction or in harmony with another key. He could boogie and jazz up the most boring finger exercises. Mr. C. created an exercise specifically for me to help me break a habit of curling my pinky finger. He knew that habit could eventually hurt me physically. His exercise worked.
One time, I came to a crossroads in my piano study and was looking for something new to learn. He thought for a few moments and then said, “I know the piece for you.” He produced a book of piano music by Johannes Brahms. Thus began a love affair with Brahms and the piano. Mr. C. made it all the richer through his masterful teaching.
As I learned the Intermezzi Op. 118 No. 1 and 2, I felt my heart expand. I was suddenly aware that there was the possibility of beauty beyond belief in this music. I practiced and practiced. I fell in love. The piece became mine. Even now, 45 years later, I still find its rich harmony and tender melodies so satisfying. This music makes me feel whole. Anyone or anything I have ever loved is held for me in this music. You can hear it here.
Sometimes, when viewing certain pieces of art, reading poetry, or in the remote places of nature where one is surrounded by quiet wonders, the feeling of playing Brahms returns. I find that I can’t just bid the feeling to come; however, it is a gift.
My favorite description of this feeling was written by John Steinbeck in East of Eden, Chapter 13. You can read it here. Maybe if you read his words, you’ll know what I am grateful for today. A kind of glory.