"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Rachmaninoff

musical miracles on a Sunday morning!

Marie Sibylla Merian - botanical engraving (c. 1705)

Marie Sibylla Merian – botanical engraving (c. 1705)

Just a quick note about how miraculous (that’s the only word for it) the technological world we live in is that allows us to access art, artists and beautiful music on a Sunday morning at home.

Here’s my little tale: this a.m. I was browsing concert schedules for ones that we might want to go to this summer. Happened upon a French pianist I had never heard of: Lise de la Salle, on the Rockport Chamber Music Festival website.

And while we’re unable to attend her concert on June 18th due to a heavy schedule, I looked up her recordings on I-Tunes. For a 24 year old, she has EIGHT albums that comprise a huge repertoire including Bach, Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, Prokoviev, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovitch and more. Looked her up on her website and discovered she concertizes mostly in Europe including the prestigious Verbier Festival in August, 2016.

Back to I-Tunes, I listened to a bunch of samples from her albums, purchased 3 for 99 cents each and made a playlist on my Library after they were downloaded. Found Youtube clips of these pieces and posted on my Facebook page to share this wonderful music on a quiet Sunday morning (both G. and I were very impressed with the clarity and musical depth of her playing.)

THEN, I looked up the IMSLP (International Music Score Library Project) website where you can search for music scores and found Rachmaninoff’s (Rocky) 2nd Etude Tableaux Op. 39, No.2 which I downloaded and printed in about 7 minutes time.

I’m planning to sightread it today and am looking forward to learning this piece. In my high school days, I played another Rocky Etude Tableaux but not as beautifully poignant as this one.

All of this new music (audible and legible) has materialized from virtually nowhere (except the Internet) and it’s not even 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning – thanks to the instant access available to us on our laptops.

WOW! Aren’t we lucky?!


unseen hand of the universe . . .

Olive 1jpgAfter an intense holiday week preceded by months of preparation, gift-buying, gift-exchanging, wrapping, decorating, shopping for food and cooking immense meals, it’s all over now. Whew!

What, I wondered to myself, will I do now to simplify my life, renew a sense of purpose and find fulfilling things to do?

Well, I needn’t have wondered. The Universe has provided the following ideas and symbolism:

1. For my birthday a couple of days ago, my daughter, C. gave me a framed picture of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” superimposed over an upright PIANO and beautifully framed in cherry wood!!  (You might have noticed it’s also the poem/theme of my blog.) Okay, I get that one–which is not to shortchange my enjoyment of playing the piano and listening to music. I made a shortlist of composers I’d like to play: Alkan, Bach, Scarlatti, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin.

2. The mail on New Year’s Eve delivered the White Flower Farm Catalog filled with unusual annuals and perennials. Ever since my ankle injury and recuperation, I’ve been thinking that working in the garden would be good therapy for me AND would also benefit the benignly neglected growth in our garden filled with climbing roses, wisteria, peonies, iris, montauk daisies and other perennials.

Last Fall, I met a wonderful Chinese family who sold incredible dahlias at the local farmers market and also met the zen-like bearded father of the clan. He and I good-naturedly kidded each other about who was older (I said I could tell my kids were older than his were; he claimed he got a late start, etc.) Anyhow, I wrote to them volunteering to help out when the weather gets better and received a warm reply back. It might have been because I also promised not to speak unless spoken to. Fiveforks Farm is the name of their gorgeous FLOWER CSA, a unique concept rather than a CSA for farmers market vegetables!

3. Yesterday, I realigned my Facebook page and was inspired to reconnect with people I’d lost touch with long ago, all of whom responded to my “friend” requests with alacrity and interesting news (thank God.)

One guy that I contacted was someone I’d known since high school, lived in the same town while our children were growing up and whom I rediscovered when HIS DAUGHTER “liked” one of my Facebook photos. Turns out she and my daughter C., were “friends” and classmates in high school. Long story short, we emailed each other last night and he said that only yesterday, he had mentioned me to his grandchildren while they were learning how to use chopsticks, relating an anecdote when he had used chopsticks for the first time at my house when we were in high school. We’ve been out of touch for years so I’m thinking this particular coincidence illustrates that there is indeed something in the ether surrounding this reconnection somehow.

4. Last but not least, I received an email from MeetUp that the New Earth Book Club with 94 members would be closed down unless a new organizer (willing to pay dues) showed up. This is a group I joined just when I broke my ankle and had not managed to attend any of the meetings nor had I met the previous Organizer. I was impressed that over time, there were almost a hundred people interested in reading about how to live with more meaning, to read spiritual and other interesting books and to discuss them together.

It was as though the Universe said, “here you go,” when I wondered how I might meet some new people nearby with similar interests. So, I paid $19.95 to keep the group alive until February 3rd. I sent a message out suggesting a group (re-grouping) meeting in January sometime before the February deadline to see how many, if any, were interested in getting together to re-invent, re-name, re-organize, organize or give it all up, but only after we’d had a chance to decide for ourselves what the future might bring.

This morning, I received an enthusiastic response from a group member who not only reinforced a desire to continue the book group, but offered HER RESTAURANT as a potential meeting place! I’m excited about the possibility that the book group might be reborn. If it is, maybe people will be drawn to books by some of my favorite writers: John Tarrant, Red Pine, Paul Coelho, Gary Zukav and that crazy Zen guy, Alan Watts.

So, to say that a lot has happened in a couple of days would be an understatement. But there’s a little more.

Yesterday in the post office, after I filled out a customs label to Canada for a pair of earrings I was returning, a woman in front of me in line jumped back from me, exclaiming, “WOW, your aura is so STRONG!” I got a kick out of that and asked her what color my aura was. Then, a woman in front of her asked what color her aura was too! It was kind of a hilarious scene in that crowded post office!

In fact, the plain hoop earrings that were too small for me were being exchanged for another pair in the shape and design of an Ouroboros–the serpent eating its own tail, symbolizing the constant recreation of oneself and one’s life. Haha.

Oh, and while I was driving to the dry cleaners yesterday, a great blue heron flew right over my car overhead as it headed for a nearby lake.

I guess the Universe has made its point, wouldn’t you say? It’s definitely in charge, not me, so straighten up, follow its lead and stop questioning what you can’t know until it appears.

As disquieting as this chain of events might appear, I find it oddly and incredibly comforting somehow, don’t you?

sunset on my birthday after Christmas in Dennisport. . .

sunset on my birthday after Christmas in Dennisport. . .






watershed . . .

"Joy" planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

“Joy” planter, a gift from C. last year with new growth . . .

Sometimes the term, “watershed” is used to describe a moment when things “before” and “after” are markedly different: water shedding in different directions. In hindsight, it feels to me like this “watershed moment” has been coming on for some time, a long time it seems. Without going into detail, it’s more of a holding than anything else for me which then manifests itself in all kinds of outer events, actions and ideas: like downscaling Christmas from a huge extravaganza to a very modest (almost nonexistent) one.

For whatever reason, I have begun to understand that I wanted to compensate for shortcomings that occurred (for all of us in one way or another) in my childhood or young adult life. Neither of my parents was around much in spirit even when they were present, and I think that I took that ball and ran with it with my own daughters. Whatever my parents didn’t care about nor did for me, I did for my kids. In spades. Now that I am still active but moving a bit slower, I’ve taken stock and it seems it’s time for me to discard that mode and live a much simpler life.

That doesn’t mean that I’m bored or unhappy. It just means that so much of the energy, time and resources that I have applied to “helping” my kids is probably too much both for their sakes and especially for mine. I want to live simpler and formulate a routine that gets me outside to take walks when the weather permits, to clean up the garden and to tend the many plants that have suffered through a Darwinian phase (“survival of the fittest”,) which, laughably is what I think I am doing for myself right now (to survive as fit as I can.)

I’ve already begun last week to cull through my vast music library of CDs, reorganizing them by pianist (Richter, Argerich, Hewitt, Lewis, Gould, Pires, Tureck, Haskil) and by composer (Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky) and listening a LOT to music that I have known so well growing up and which I got away from listening. For example, I remember listening to Khachaturian violin concerto and Shostakovitch 5th Symphony a lot when I was in high school. Now, I play my favorite music aloud on speakers, or use earphones during football games on TV. Talk about multi-tasking: I still manage the remote for the ads that come on the Patriots game while listening to Schumann or Scriabin via the earphones in my head. A little disorienting but not bad.

More than ever, I feel that music is truly the great mover that endlessly nourishes the spirit. No matter if one is rich or poor, with someone or living alone, there is nothing like music to elevate mood, enrich perspective and to just keep company with us, each and every day. A pianist who had dinner with us on Saturday suggested some early recordings by Sviatislav Richter (Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Brahms 2nd with Erich Leinsdorf.) I loved listening to them–thanks to I-Tunes. The technology of being able to search I-Tunes, purchase recordings, copy them to a playlist is so facile it amazes me. I had the Leon Fleisher Brahms recordings but have now added these two Richter recordings to my music library–what a revelation they were! He uses pedal a lot in his Bach recordings and I also listened for the first time to some Brahms sonatas he recorded that I’m unfamiliar with.

In parallel, I’m experimenting with a piano list to practice and learn new pieces, an idea to practice a new program every 3-6 months, or maybe in a year’s time. Although a little arthritis is showing up in my left hand, the rest of me, especially my brain and ear, still seem to be intact, at least, most of the time.

Anyhow, this is a monumental watershed for me in the beginning of December, a time, when I’m usually projecting to spend DAYS preparing for the holidays. Now, whatever happens, happens. I feel a little sad to give it all up, but not as sad as I might have expected. And I have discovered that honesty compensates for all the things I thought I had to do to make other people happy.

Now, I can let them find their way while I follow my own path “not taken” as much as I might have up to now.

A new day. A fresh start. Let’s see what little leaves grow from last year’s box of Joy.

new growth in last year's "Joy" planter . . .

new growth in last year’s “Joy” planter . . .

the sound of music . . .

Xmas 2005-Spring 2006 583_2_2This post is not about the movie, the play or the book, “Sound of Music.” What it is about is what happens to the human spirit when the sound of music is heard live, in person, in the presence of the music being made, heard and then falling away.

A few days ago, I received an email from some old friends of mine with whom we had lost touch. We would say we would get together soon but somehow never managed to. You know how that goes. In any case, they wrote to me to ask a favor. A neighbor of theirs was planning to celebrate an 88th birthday for their father who was visiting them from out of town. It turns out that 88 is also a magic number for the number of black and white keys on a piano keyboard. The birthday celebrant loved classical piano music, and my friends wondered whether I would play some pieces for him as his “birthday gift.” They also wanted to make a gift of some sort made out of old piano keys, which G., my husband who is a piano restorer, brought over to their house yesterday to play around with.

In the meantime, we had to hustle because it turns out that the favorite piece of this classical music lover was Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.” If you are familiar with it, you’ll laugh out loud like I did because:  a) it’s very difficult; and b )it’s written for piano and orchestra. Undaunted, G. found a reduction (simplified) version of the score at the Holy Cross music library aided by a piano friend who is on the faculty there. Even with the score easier to see, it is still hard to read and play, given that it is written for five flats!

This is Tuesday and I’ve put together a tentative program according to the Juilliard model (baroque/classical/romantic) in that order: Bach, Scarlatti, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Practicing yesterday, I noticed that although I hadn’t played or practiced in quite awhile, that I felt both stronger and freer while going through the pieces.

This afternoon, G. will tune the piano that hasn’t been serviced for awhile and meet the fellow who will be congratulated on Thursday evening, although he probably doesn’t have an inkling of all these surprises in store for his birthday.

Thursday evening: The party was a hit! Chuck spoke about the first time he heard the Rachmaninoff Rhapsodie on a Theme of Paganini when he was twenty years old in a church during World War II. His relating the story after I played the piece brought the experience full circle–and so I did a reprise of it for him. When I asked him if there was any other piece he’d like to hear, he shook his head and said that he was happy with the program and with hearing the Rachmaninoff piece live. Now, there’s a rarity–someone who is satified and knows it.

What a great treat to be able to play this music for him! I’m grateful for the invitation to participate.

basil toutorsky. . .

Basil and Maria Toutorsky's home on 16th St., Washington, D.C.

I started playing the piano when I was three in China trying to imitate my Aunt Anna, a piano teacher. When my father was finishing his doctorate at the University of Chicago, he sent for my mother and me to come to America. We were living in Peking with his parents until the end of World War II. We travelled by freighter for three weeks, arriving in California. Then we took a train to Chicago, five days sitting up in a train, eating sardines on saltines for our meals. Our first home in Chicago was located in the cement basement of a house belonging to a Chinese family who kindly took us in. When he graduated, my father got a research position at the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington D.C. and we moved to a 2nd story apartment in a small house in Berwyn, Md.

Piano was important everywhere we lived. We had an upright in the Chicago basement which I would practice after I had started the evening’s rice to cook. In Berwyn, we also had a piano. That’s when my parents found a piano teacher named Mrs. Cortez to give me piano lessons. We stood by the highway and took the Greyhound bus to Washington, D.C., then took the D.C. Transit bus to 16th Street for my piano lesson. Sometimes my father would drive us there, reading scientific papers in the back of our old black Ford while he waited for me to have my lesson. Soon, Mrs. Cortez suggested that I take lessons with the Professor instead. She was a student of his as well, her teaching room right off the reception room filled with sumptuous furniture.

Before leaving Russia, Professor Basil Toutorsky was a renowned pianist and friend of both Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin. He was also one of the nicest persons I had and have ever met. He took me under his wing for about four years from the time I was eight to when I turned twelve. The architecture of the house on 16th street made it a landmark in Washington. Click studio to see the outside and imagine what it must have been like for a Chinese kid to have piano lessons there. Inside, there were twenty-two grand pianos, placed two-by-two with keyboards that ran from one end to each other. Some were coved together as matched pairs in room after room.  We spent many hours playing four-hand pieces together, either on one piano, sitting side by side or on two pianos where we could see each other over the music desks.

By osmosis, this early routine of playing with Professor Toutorsky gave me a deep sense of music and rhythm. He taught me laborious hand and finger exercises that gave me strength and independence. I played a lot of technical exercises: Czerny, Cramer and lots of scales: chromatic through the circle of fifths, natural, in parallel and contrary motion. I later learned that the finger exercises were known as the Leschetizky method. To this day, I owe the development of my technical ability, ear training and musicality to Professor Toutorsky.

me, at the age of twelve, at the piano in Toutorsky's studio

He was also one of the few adults who showed me humor and compassion. One year for my father’s birthday, he recorded me playing Beethoven variations and encouraged me to say “happy birthday” on the ’78 rpm record that he put into a paper sleeve.

When I was twelve, he took me down to the Cosmos Club, an exclusive place where concerts were attended by Washington’s society elite. It was the first time I played a few notes on a nine-foot Bosendorfer grand piano. The tone of the Bosendorfer’s bass notes made a lasting impression on me. Later, I compared its tone to many of the instruments that I played, looking for that elusive and rare depth of sound. He also planned my first recital to be given at his home. As a momento, he showed me a photo of a music lyre in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then with my assent, had the image of the lyre made into a gold pendant, engraved on the back with my name and date commemorating my”First Recital”.

first recital pendant

To this day, I am ever so grateful to this gentle man who gave me so much technical and musical training so magnanimously. My parents underestimated what he did for me. I don’t think they knew what Leschetizky method was. For sure, they didn’t realize how much Professor Toutorsky cared for me. Nor I for him.