I was recently asked to share some thoughts on my relationship with my own piano for a blog. It struck me how personal an issue this is for me and understandably difficult to put into words. I am obsessed with pianos and finding out trivia about the great pianists and their Steinways me terribly. It is interesting that many of these internationally renowned pianists are quite secretive when it comes to what they own. That is why I am taking the first step and being 100% honest about mine in the hope of some reciprocal energy in the universe. A humble attempt.
My one and only
I am in love. Let me describe her: black and beautiful with three legs and more than 100 years old. You might think I am on very strong medication or need to stop watching American Horror Story’s Freak Show series. Well, actually it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
You can choose your friends – not your family. We are all too aware of the inevitability of the hand you are dealt with which can serve as source of pain or pleasure. With pianos I have realised most pianists find themselves in the same situation: the majority grow up with a piano in their family home and can maybe once or twice in the course of their later lives choose a newer or even brand new piano – weather it is a grand or an upright. For the rest of the “pianofiles” (as my colleague Jill Richards always jokingly calls some pianists) choice remain limited and you have to make do with what you have at home. Forever.
The chance to buy a new piano or upgrade to a better instrument is few and far between. For this reason I count my blessings every day having grown up in a home that happen to have a Steinway. This grand piano was the pride and joy of our family, yet nobody could really play piano well. I come from a totally unmusical family but immediately took to the piano, as I believe music chose me – not the other way around. Our Model O-180 Steinway was built in 1911 in Hamburg and was fully restored as-good-as-new for my 21st birthday when I inherited the piano. I will never forget the first time I played on my piano after it had been rebuilt. It was like walking into you house after one of those reality TV shows overhauled and refurnished every room of my house with plush new interiors. I recognised my piano but it felt new, better and stronger than ever before and I just could not stop playing. I wanted to discover all the new sound possibilities and have hours of fun experimenting.
For the last 10 years my piano has been in my Pretoria house, where I now live. Its technical needs got yet another upgrade when I started servicing the piano with Ian Burgess-Simpson Pianos from 2011 when it turned 100 and I realised my baby needs special attention because it is a very, very hard-working practising instrument. With every full day service once a year I discover new sounds and touch sensations in this instrument I know so intimately. It just gets better every time.
I cannot imagine my life on earth without it and spending hours and hours in its company means this hand-built instrument is far more than a good and lasting piano. It is my security, my career, and my safe space for making mistakes, experimenting, dreaming, conceptualising new arrangements and experiencing fleeting moments of bliss when hours of hard work culminate in a few seconds of musical satisfaction.
In 2010 I was named a Steinway Artist and had to compose a motto or credo that describe my thought and relationship with Steinway. Here is what I wrote:
“I will never know where the magic of Steinway ends and the spirit of music begins – to me they are one”.
Dreams of getting a younger brother (Model D) from the factory floor in Hamburg remain one of my biggest obsessions in life, but until then I have one and only love. My piano.