Day 62: Gould, Bach, and me

Day 62

The piano has been drinking

Play an instrument.

I have always wanted to play the piano. Whenever I visited someone with a piano, I would strike a few chords, or rather, press a few keys almost randomly, as I didn’t know any chords. I liked the sound, but I never learned how to play, and usually, I was happy just to discover how I could create harmony and something resembling a simple melody.

Sometimes, I could sit and play two identical notes one octave apart and be mesmerised by the fact that they were different yet the same. I impressed no-one, I wasn’t exactly a virtuoso, but I never tried to be one, either. I remained a novice who dreamed about one day being able to play something recognizable; I never even dreamed about playing something more advanced than the easiest christmas carols.

One day, everything changed.

Seven years ago, some months before my oldest son was born, I discovered the Goldberg Variations. More specifically, I discovered Glenn Gould’s version:

I listened to these variations, especially the aria, over and over, as if I was a teenager again. My Christmas presents that year? Gould-CDs for everyone. My favourite topic? Bach’s genius. My hero? Glenn Gould. (I didn’t know anything about him other than how he played the piano, but that was enough.) My dream? To buy a piano and learn how to play the aria.

Some months after my discovery, our oldest son was born. He was the most beautiful child you could imagine, of course, they all are, and we were floating on pink skies through our suddenly a lot more than mundane existence. But he did cry, occasionally. He did complain about something sometimes, and even though we usually managed to soothe him, there were times when we didn’t, and his complaints filled our tiny apartment.

From time to time, the pinkishness faded and we just wanted him to calm down and be quiet.

Once, not long after his birth, I carried him around for what seemed like hours. He wasn’t hungry, his diaper wasn’t full, he was neither cold nor warm, it didn’t look like his tummy was hurting — nothing seemed to be wrong, and yet he wasn’t happy about something and made us understand it in no uncertain terms.

I tried everything, but nothing worked. After what seemed like hours of babyish whining, I had enough: I handed him over to his mother. That didn’t stop him, either. Our patience was wearing thin. To soothe myself (and my wife), I put on some music: the aria from the Goldberg variations.

The moment my son heard the first chord, he went silent. His eyes opened. His body relaxed, he seemed to be listening intently. I know that sound.

And the strangest part? I hadn’t played the aria since before his birth. Whatever he recognized, he recognized from his time in the womb.

Ever since that day, that tune has been his tune. Just like my wife and me have our own song, so does he — and every time he hears it, even now, he beams with pride. That is my song.

Five years ago, we bought a piano. Not a proper piano, of course, we move every three years, it would be way too big — but a kind of advanced synthesizer (or a digital piano, as they call it). I bought some books as well, Learn how to play the piano, Easy christmas song, Bach for beginners, and a headset so I wouldn’t disturb the others.

And I started learning the piano. From scratch. This is a note. This is a key. This is an octave. This is a chord. I learned a few easy children’s songs, and half a christmas carol.

But I always came back to the Aria. And even before I read the first chapter of Learn how to play the piano, I spent most of my piano time looking at the sheet and playing one note at a time. That note is a C-D-E-F-G, OK, G, where is G, C, D… ah, here. *G*.

In the end, that was all I did. I went straight from “this is a piano” to “play the Goldberg aria like Gould”. And now, years later, that is all I can play: parts of the aria (half of it just with the left hand), hesitatingly, in the wrong tempo and with lots of mistakes.

I have always wanted to play the piano. I have spent five years trying to learn it. I still don’t know how to play the piano, not even the simplest of melodies. But I am able to play parts of one of the most beautiful piano pieces ever made. I enjoy every moment I spend practicing it.

And I can make my son beam with pride every time.

I wouldn’t change a thing.