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Friday, September 15, 2017

What Pianists Know

What Pianists Know

September 15, 2017
by Peter J. Leithart

I grew up taking piano lessons. My mother, a college music teacher before her marriage, made sure of that.

I didn’t care much for it, and gave it a lot less attention than my free throw technique. Tristesse. I wish I had believed my teachers who told me I’d regret my laziness.

Still, I learned some things, not only about music but about life. I suppose musicians who play other instruments have learned similar lessons.

One of them is: Look ahead. You can’t play the piano if you have to stop to pay attention to each note or chord. That’s what you do before you know the piece; once you know it, every moment rushes forward to what’s coming.

It’s a good life lesson. Enjoy the moment, for sure. But moments rush by as fast as a Chopin trill. Each moment needs to lean into the next.

Another lesson is: These days, I retain enough skill to accompany a liturgy or play a hymn. And I always apply a lesson my mother taught me: No matter how tangled up you get, no matter how many notes you miss, keep playing.Especially if others are depending on you to lead them, keep playing.There are names for pianists who are paralyzed by errors: Unemployed and amateur come to mind.

Again, a life lesson. Errors don’t come as rapidly or abundantly as moments, but errors are plenty plentiful. If you stop to wallow in them, your life grinds to a halt. Confess them; correct them; repent. And move ahead.

There’s a sweet final chord waiting for you at the end. You don’t want to stop before you get there.

Peter J. Leithart is President of the Theopolis Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. He serves as Teacher at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, and is author, most recently, of a forthcoming two-volume commentary on Revelation (T&T Clark). He writes a bi-monthly column at He and his wife Noel have ten children and nine grandchildren.

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