80 years of life experience, in 3 chords

I just returned home after teaching a piano student who lives about 15 minutes from my home. She’s 80 years old and hasn’t played much piano since she was a teenager, but has sung and played various other instruments her whole life.

We’re working on improvising accompaniments to folk songs, improvising melodic solos with my Flowing Water lessons, and she’s also learning some classical pieces.

She’s practicing a lot and really sounds good, but the best thing is that she’s having such a great time playing piano again. It’s reconnecting her to her 15-year old self and the music is bringing her a lot of joy at this point in her journey.

At one point in today’s lesson, she played Chopin’s famous Prelude in Em. It’s a pretty simple piece except for 2 measures that are much harder than the rest of the piece. (No fair, Chopin!!!) She’s been practicing it for a while, and played it well. A few wrong notes here and there but she basically has it under her fingers and can play it with emotion.

Now here’s the amazing part.

When she played the piece’s last 3, solemn chords in the low register of the piano, I could literally feel the emotion come into my chest. She had put 80 years of her life into those 3 chords, and I felt something very special.

I looked over at her and said, “Can I tell you something that you probably won’t believe?” She nodded so I went on, “There are accomplished pianists in the world who have concert careers, have performed at Carnegie Hall, and sell recordings to listeners everywhere. And many of them would give anything to be able to play those 3 chords like you just did.” She nodded in understanding.

It’s about our life experience and making music a part of our lives. That’s where the reward is. Helping people do this is one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching piano so much.

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