Somewhere, I have a file of papers that document my accomplishments as a child, and as a young teenager. The Dandenong Festival of Music piano competitions I won. The adjudicator’s notes for the 14-and-under competition where I received an honourable mention. I was eight years old. I think the adjudicator was Ronald Farren-Price. I could be mistaken. There’s also the newspaper cut-out from the Herald-Sun paper reporting how I won 2nd Prize in the Sun Pictorial Under 12 comp.
I remember competing at the Dandenong Town Hall. Mum and I would drive out – in those days it was a long drive out. We’d go into the main hall, and when it was my turn coming up, I’d go up to the little room off the stage to wait. There was a little radiator on the floor for us to warm out hands by. I seem to recall that it was mostly in winter that I’d be there. And then finally, it was my turn, and I’d go out onto the stage. Mum says I was never nervous. Don’t know if that’s quite true, but I did go out confidently. When I first started competing, my little legs didn’t touch the floor, and once, when the pedal was required for the very last chord of the piece, I slid down, on one smooth move, off the piano stool, down to the floor with my foot to the pedal, and received an enormous ovation for my effort. Must have been pretty cute to see the tiny child I was going to such lengths to play the piece well, and pulling it off so seamlessly.
Mr. Spivakovsky and I had quite a special relationship. Mum tells me how he’d call when it was a hot day in summer, asking her to make sure I wasn’t outside in the heat, that I’m wearing a hat. He really did treat me like a daughter. In fact, one day, when Mum and I rocked up for my weekly lesson, and I, as usual ran out into the garden to play while I waited for Mum and he to finish talking – I never knew what all they talked about for what to me seemed like half an hour before each lesson – she learned that his daughter had committed suicide. Mum tried to insist that we leave, but he was even more insistent that I have my lesson. And so I did. Of course, I wasn’t aware of all that had happened until I was a bit older, but all I know is that when Mr. Spivakovsky himself passed away, two days before my fourteenth birthday, I was completely devastated. I actually don’t remember much about that time. I don’t remember how I heard the news, or what the immediate impact on me was. I don’t remember conversations about what to do about a new teacher for me. I just know that, by the outcome, my relationship with music and the piano was completely shaken, and directly and adversely impacted.
Mum sent me to Mr. Shalit to continue my pianistic education, and although he was equally highly regarded as a pianist and teacher, I just couldn’t get into it with him – he wasn’t my Mr. Spivakovsky. I remember catching the tram down Brighton Road to Commercial Road, and walking through the park in my yellow wool tunic that I loved, my music books in hand, to the not-as-grandiose albeit elegant house where Mr. Shalit lived. But no matter how hard Mum tried, I just wasn’t ever going to get along as his student. I remember once, when he had one of his informal musical afternoons for his students to perform for each other, I actually hid behind the piano.
So, there ended my pianistic education, at least for a few years. There were other elements in my life that made it a difficult time for me, and led me to abandon my music. It wasn’t just having lost my beloved teacher. I wasn’t very resilient emotionally as a teenager, and my music suffered. I pretty much turned my back on that part of my life, and I never really regained that level of expertise I had back then. I’d been on a path that would have led me to a life of music, perhaps as a concert pianist, but certainly, a life of greatness. Do I have regrets now? Sure. Of course I do. For years I couldn’t go to concerts without crying inside.
Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the story.