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My Rachmaninoff Story

by Pat Goltz

The nourishment which beauty gives to the soul is essential for the development of Renaissance Personhood. This beauty is pursued through the arts, and requires the pursuit of only the most excellent and uplifting expressions. Only to the extent that the arts awaken the awareness of human suffering and thus the burning desire to alleviate it, may this rule be broken. All forms of art that seek to debase both art and human dignity are inimical to the development of the spirit.

I have an amazing story to tell, because Sergei Rachmaninoff was a major force to shape my musical life. Maybe this tale seems ordinary, but I offer it for whatever inspiration it can engender in you, the reader.

It happened when I was a senior in high school. Whether or not I was familiar with the exceptionally popular Prelude in C# Minor prior to this, I don't remember. But one day I was listening to the radio, and I heard someone playing that piece, and I immediately thought to myself, "I HAVE to learn to play that piece!" Up to that point, I hadn't played anything quite so difficult. But I didn't tell anyone my thoughts.

I went to my piano lesson just a few days later, and my piano teacher, whom I loved dearly (one of two of the best music teachers I ever had), said it was time for her to assign a new piece for the next recital. Imagine my surprise when she asked me if I would like to learn the Prelude in C# Minor! Of course, I readily accepted this new assignment.

At the time, my mother was going to college, so my schedule worked out that I was alone for several hours each day, after I got home from school. So I decided only to work on the piece when I was alone.

The piano we had at the time was a Wurlitzer spinet, and thereby hangs a tale I'll tell, as well. This piano was brought into my parents' marriage by my father. My father never played the piano. But his sister (my aunt) won this piano at a raffle or something, and he wanted it, so he told my aunt that he would pay $100 for it. This was back when that amount of money meant something. She said she wanted $125 for it, so he told her that if he could get it into his car, he'd pay $100 for it, and she accepted. And he got it into his car. I have no idea what he was driving at the time, but I think that must have been quite a feat. So this was the piano on which I practiced the Prelude.

Anyway, I managed to prepare this piece completely on the sly. I have to say I STILL struggle with his four staffs arrangement, especially since I have to relearn the piece from time to time.

The day of the recital, we performed in a music hall that had a Knabe 6'4" grand piano. I think the Knabe is the best piano ever made. It has such rich sonority in the lower pitches, and clarity and brilliance in the higher. I like it considerably better than the Steinway. And there is another reason, too. The Steinway has a peculiar characteristic to its action, that when you play a key, it has to overcome a little bump. This made it impossible for me to play a true pianissimo (at least in my opinion). So here I was, playing on my favorite piano. I ALMOST pulled the piece off flawlessly, but when I got to the run of chords that cascades down the scale just before the third section with the huge chords, I couldn't quite make it seamlessly into this section, so I repeated the cascade. And nobody knew the difference! But the piano made it a scintillating performance I'll never forget.

When my parents looked at the program, they had no idea how the Prelude in C# Minor sounded, so when they heard me play, to hear them tell it, they were totally blown away! Afterwards, they said that maybe they needed to buy a new piano. And lo and behold, they went out and bought a 5'8" Knabe grand! I was in seventh heaven. Now if that isn't a string of coincidences, I don't know what is!

And needless to say, that whole episode inspired me immensely to remain serious about my music.

Now it turns out that my favorite piano concerto is Rachmaninoff's Second. And I had one more coincidence to go. When I got into college, I took piano lessons from one of the professors, and one of the pieces she assigned me was the slow movement! Again, this happened without any input on my part. She just assigned it. Unfortunately, life intervened, and I never mastered any of it, though I have read through most of it. One of my ultimate goals is to learn to play this concerto. Needless to say, it is quite a challenge. But one of these days, when I get my OWN Knabe repaired, I will start working on it again.

It's just a simple story of a personal experience, but it was probably the highlight of my life's experience with music.

The conclusion I draw from all this is that Rachmaninoff has the ability to inspire many, and sometimes, it is spectatular!

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