When I was a little girl, I began learning to play the piano. We had a small upright piano, and my first teacher’s name was Mrs. Morberger. She lived across the street from our house on the corner of Milton Street and Broadway in Elwood. I can’t tell you much about her, except that I really liked her, and I loved going for my lessons.
After a couple of years, she spoke to my parents, and told them that she recommended I move on to a new teacher, one who could develop me further than she had the capacity to do. That’s when I first met Mr. Jascha Spivakovsky. He lived in an incredible mansion at 76 St. Georges Road in Toorak. I remember clearly the circular drive, and the taller-than-life ghost gum on the right side. He actually lived in only a part of this mansion. On the right side. Mum would drive me to my lessons, and we’d knock on the front door. Mrs. Spivakovsky would open the door, and we’d enter the long corridor leading down to the music room. There was a little room at the end of the corridor where I’d wait patiently for my lesson time. We always arrived early. Sometimes, Mum would go into the music room to speak with Mr. Spivakovsky first for a while. This was my cue. I’d quickly find my way out the back door, past the beautifully manicured lawn, sloping down, down, down, past the flowering garden beds, and through the little gate right at the foot of the garden.
Through that gate was my secret wonder world. It was outside the perimeter of the house grounds, a kind of no man’s land, and I roamed freely there, with careful footing down the meandering untamed path to the bank of the Yarra. There I’d sit, for as long as I thought I could, before rushing back up to the house and to my beloved teacher.
The music room was incredible. To me, a small child, it was enormous. I actually think it must have been pretty large really, not just in my young perspective, because it housed not one, but three very large, and very grand pianos, one in each corner of the room, with quite a nice sized floor space in the middle. Perhaps for chairs in rows when he might give intimate performances here? I don’t know. I just remember walking across the large polished floor to the far right back of the room to the piano where I’d take my seat and have my lessons. Each piano was covered in a beautiful, embroidered silk cloth that had long, long fringes all around, making the instrument look truly magnificent. Behind me, one of the three pianos rested on a raised platform, and I recall, very vaguely, that there were music stands there too, but I can’t be certain. There definitely was something on that stage, but it’s such a faint image, I can’t capture it enough to put it into words.
Here, I spent an hour or so each week, working with my teacher. His hands were very large. I remember that his fingers were so thick, he could hardly play the notes cleanly. But I loved him. I loved being with him. I loved how he led me into new discoveries with my playing, and the games he concocted to open new techniques and develop new competencies. I stayed with him as my teacher till, just days before my 14th birthday, he passed away, on 23rd March, 1970. And when he died, it was never again the same for me with my piano playing.