Sing With Me

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Celia Kay An­drew

AUNTIE JAN is com­ing to stay with us for a few days; you must make sure and play for her, Joanna.” I shrank into my­self at the thought and wished Mum wouldn’t keep push­ing this is­sue of me be­ing quite good at the pi­ano.

I knew she was proud of me and all that, but I wasn’t the most con­fi­dent per­son and play­ing for any­one re­ally made me cringe.

I liked play­ing for my­self and my pi­ano teacher.

His name was Em­rys and at one time he was a re­ally fa­mous im­pre­sario, but some hor­ri­ble ac­ci­dent hap­pened when he was about thirty.

It messed up his face a bit and trashed most of his vi­sion.

Although he could still play the pi­ano bet­ter than any­one I’ve ever heard, he didn’t give con­certs any more.

He was shy and quiet – “with­drawn”, my mum called it – and hated pub­lic­ity now.

He wouldn’t teach, ei­ther, ex­cept for a few “dis­ad­van­taged” in­ner Lon­don chil­dren like me who’d been se­lected by some Arts Coun­cil thing be­cause we had shown a bit of tal­ent.

I was never sure whether to feel pa­tro­n­ised or de­lighted by the in­vi­ta­tion to learn the pi­ano for noth­ing on this scheme.

But by now I’d been hav­ing weekly lessons for four years and I prac­tised faith­fully ev­ery night.

I could sight-read and play stuff up to Grade Eight, but I re­fused to take any ex­ams.

Play in pub­lic? You’ve got to be kid­ding!

I won­dered some­times if the Arts Coun­cil peo­ple were re­gret­ting choos­ing me, be­cause I wasn’t quite match­ing up to what I think they wanted of their Cho­sen Few.

I imag­ined they wanted some­one they could show off at con­certs to prove that their ini­tia­tive had been worth it.

But I couldn’t see me ever turn­ing into any kind of pro­fes­sional like Em­rys had been be­fore the ac­ci­dent.

He reck­oned I had lots of tal­ent and wanted me to have a proper pi­ano, but let’s face it, Stein­ways don’t come cheap, and Cam­ber­well is not ex­actly a likely place to buy one.

Em­rys’s pi­ano was a Stein­way Grand. I adored it. It had the most fab­u­lous tone and it re­ally made me want to be wor­thy of it and good enough to play on it and do it jus­tice.

Its keys slipped un­der my fin­gers, mak­ing them feel light and nim­ble.

It was so sen­si­tive that when I touched the soft­est notes it lis­tened to me and re­sponded like a gen­tle, beau­ti­ful, liv­ing thing.

I prac­tised on the old, over­strung, up­right Rogers at home (£30 from a closed-down ho­tel sale) which had a gor­geous bass but slightly noisy up­per reaches.

Although I guess it was good for sing-songs, it wasn’t re­ally up to the Chopin noc­turnes I loved so much.

But I did en­joy the fa­mil­iar­ity and home­li­ness of it and would not part with it when Mum and Dad of­fered to get rid of it and re­place it with a more mod­ern in­stru­ment.

They had to scratch around for enough cash for their own treats as it was, and any­way, there were my two older broth­ers to con­sider as well.

I knew I would just feel hor­ri­bly guilty if my par­ents splashed out a cou­ple of grand they couldn’t af­ford on some­thing they didn’t re­ally un­der­stand and wouldn’t even get that much from.

This “play­ing for Auntie Jan” was some­thing I was go­ing to have to do, for their sakes, whether I wanted to or not.

It would be to pay them back for the hours I spent deaf­en­ing them with Beethoven, or bor­ing them to death with arpeg­gios and scales.

****

I was due to have a les­son with Em­rys at his mag­nif­i­cent house in a posh Lon­don square one af­ter­noon, a few days be­fore Auntie Jan was due to ar­rive.

But his house­keeper, Mrs Minchin, told me that he had been held up and I was to go in and start my prac­tis­ing alone, and he would join me shortly.

She left me to re­turn to what she called “thrash­ing out menus with Cook” and I made my way to the first floor, where the Stein­way lived.

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