Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Magical Moment 139, "The Old Woman Who Played Chopin"


Today, I visited 13 pianos throughout Manhattan in my mission to play all 60 pianos within the 5 boroughs in 2 weeks! It was a day of blistered feet, sun burnt shoulders, and a parking ticket.

I was surprised at how many pianos seemed untouched, as if by standers were scared or unsure of its purpose, like in Saint Nicholas Park and Harlem Art Park. However, others, like the band shell at Central Park and the Lincoln Center, were swarming with both talented and eager players and grateful audience members.

My favorite moment today was as one of those audience members outside the Juilliard Building in Lincoln Center. I was waiting for my turn at the keys when an old woman walked by the piano carrying a backpack and several plastic grocery bags so full that the handles stretched and threatened to break all together. Long gray and black hair stretched down the back of her tiny frame as she stepped slowly with a hunched back. Her eyes suddenly lit up when she saw the instrument and she asked the girl at the piano if anyone could play. When the girl said yes, she smiled a mostly toothless smile, and began unloading her bags from her frail arms. She laid them at the base of the piano and when the bench was vacant, she took her seat. The by-standers were curious and no doubt skeptical of the woman’s musical abilities. Most of the players before her were likely students of Juilliard. But the woman was surprisingly confident as she placed her hands over the keys. She began to play. It was a beautiful classical piece by Chopin, Nocturn Op.27 No. 2.

It was clear to me that she knew every note, as if the muscle motion of her fingers were perfectly memorized decades ago. Perhaps she hadn’t played the song in years, or even a piano in years, but she played the entire piece from start to finish. When she was done, I clapped hard and she looked back at her applauding crowd with surprise and gratefulness. Still smiling, she slowly gathered her bags, placing them strategically on her back and arms, and continued slowly on her way.

For piano photos thus far, click here.
For videos, click here.