This morning, I had my first piano lesson with Michael Spivakovsky. I hardly know where to begin to tell you how extraordinary an experience this was for me. I set my car’s GPS to the address, even though I’d travelled there so many times in my life. It had been a while since my last visit. As I turned off the freeway, made a left turn and another left, then straight ahead, I began to smile. It was as if I was in a kid movie, and that fantastic feeling when you cross over The Line into Magicland washed over me.
There was the high hedge, with openings on either side, marking the in and out of the circular driveway. I turned in, and as I spotted the majestic, tall, white gum in the right corner of the driveway, I said to myself, “there’s my gum tree!” and it felt like I was coming home. Michael met me outside, pointing out where I should park, and as I approached the doorway, he gave me such a warm greeting.
As I stepped inside, looking straight down the corridor that I knew so, so well, Michael said, “it’s all the same, exactly as it was!” And so it was. The staircase on the left, the waiting room straight ahead, and the dip in the floor leading down to the piano room. The furnishings were as they’d been, and everything looked almost untouched, and I couldn’t believe where I was walking. Seriously, I almost felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Without getting weird about it, I don’t know how else to describe it. As I stepped through the doorway into that big room where I’d spent my most favourite hours as a child, I breathed in the same air, and the same smells filled my senses. And there was the piano, albeit on the other side of the room from where it was 45 years ago. The same piano chair, and the same Staedtler pencil on the music stand.
I positively nearly gasped out loud as my eyes fell on the beautiful silk embroidered cloth covering the piano, with its long black fringes falling delicately over the piano’s sides. It was as I remembered. I mean, everything was as I remembered. I looked out the windows, down into the garden below, and saw the low stone fence with the gate that led down to the Yarra river where I played before my lessons.
I’ve spent my life trying to get back to this place. Not the physical space, no. But what it represented. I was so fortunate to have had Jascha Spivakovsky as my teacher. And after he was gone, it was never the same for me with music. Oh, yes, I had several teachers since then, but none compared. I kept searching for that special kind of teaching he gave, I wanted someone to tell me how to practise, not just that I should. I wanted someone to show me how to get that sound, that beautiful, clean, clear, sound I’d been able to produce way back then.
And here I was now, with Michael, his son, who’d spent 27 years of his life learning his father’s methodology, sharing with me about his father, and how he used to teach. We laughed together about some of his clever ways of communicating with us as children, and I played a little Mozart, and a little Brahms, and learned my first lesson – “RELAX!” It’s what Jascha used to say to me back then too, taking my wrist and gently shaking it so that my hand flopped effortlessly up and down. He played some recordings of his father, and where in the past, I would have cried quietly inside as my heart broke yet again, this time I felt so content, and so nurtured by the sound of his fingers on the piano keys.
My one hour lesson had stretched way beyond that to almost two, and soon, I was on my way home again. How funny life is, and how wonderful. I’d lived most of my adult life with such regret, and had pretty much given up on ever really getting anywhere with my music. I’ve been here and there, lived on the other side of the world, done this and that, and lived my life, and here I am now, through the most remarkable of coincidences and serendipitous circumstances – I’ve come home.
I said that it was shocking for me to play so badly here on this piano, in this room, that his father would turn in his grave if he heard what I’d done with what he’d given me. But Michael said no, he’d be happy I was there, it’s exciting. And I believe he would be, and yes, it certainly is.