Things that scare you

I moved from Dublin to Luxembourg in 2016 and part of my journey to Luxembourg took me through the Gare de L’Est in Paris. Flight to Paris, you see, and a train to Luxembourg. I had HOURS to kill in Paris, armed with quite a lot of luggage.

Gare de L’Est has a Yamaha piano, and I summoned up all my guts to play it – if you look for the #pianoengare hashtag, you’ll know that the SNCF pianos are often played by extremely able pianists and I think there is video of Valentina Lisitsa, for example. It’s intimidating and I have to be honest, I didn’t at that time, have a lot of self confidence. What I had, I summoned up and noodled at the piano for around 20 minutes before I got cold and went in search of something to drink. It was…interesting. I had not actually played the piano regularly for many years.

It’s a good piano.

I have a dreadful tendency not to be able to say no sometimes, and especially, if someone is asking me to do something which in a way, terrifies me. This year, I got asked to play piano in public-ish (how public is an even which features a bunch of your work colleagues) and with a lot of concern, I agreed. There were some limitations in terms of repertoire and eventually, having decided on some pieces, I got on and did it. I won’t say it went perfectly – I had a nervous crisis at the piano, precisely because I knew all these people. In a way, the train station pianos are easier.

But it was good for me, not least because it provides an unusual motivation to practise, and it made me think about how I approached the piano. Do I play for me, or do I want to shine and sparkle for others?

I tend to think I play for myself. That it is a self indulgence. I’d like to hope it’s one which will stave off dementia in about 40 years time (I dread aging for some reason). But I also felt that accepting the risk of doing things which scare me – like performing in public – is good for me. Not just because it motivates me to practice, but also because it motivates me to open up. Both pieces I played back in May in a work concert were arranged by me (with not one piece of sheet music to hand because that’s just not the way I work). I’ve been asked about a transcription since, and that too, has motivated me to think about how I might approach that. There is software on my iPad, but I find, I prefer to play the piano than actually sit down transcribing what I play. No matter.

The other point is that, there is a difference between the safe things I play in public (ie the things I can’t possibly make a truly ridiculous mess of) and the things that I challenge myself with at home (Ballade No 2 by Chopin). I am thinking that perhaps, this needs to change.

Heuston Station, Dublin

Pianos in Public

This is the piano in Heuston Station, Dublin. It is one of three station pianos that I know about in Dublin (the first was in Pearse Station, and I believe there is one in Connolly Station now also).

I love the idea of pianos like that. The SNCF has a load of them in the train stations in Paris – I’ve played two of them. Most of the time that I pass through Heuston now, which is not very often as I live in Luxembourg, someone is playing the piano. The day I played (see below), a couple of teenage girls knocked out a lot of Yann Tiersen after I went off to get coffee.

The pianos in railway stations seem to survive remarkably well. The piano at the Gare de l’Est in Paris is a Yamaha which, by the standards of Yamahas, is a really nice piano to play. We often hear comments like “That’s why we can’t have nice things” when something has been vandalised but a million people must walk through some of the big stations in Paris and yet….

Pianos in Public

Trip to Ireland, Bensusan, arranged for piano by me

In Ireland, people come up and talk to you. They even came to me on the train in Mallow, 2 hours to the south to say that they had enjoyed it. I wasn’t doing anything particularly difficult – the piano is a piano d’études, and not very new. The keys are a little harder to play than I am used to. But if it’s free, I play it any time I pass, although I don’t always have time to record it. And I play things that are second nature.

Pianos in Public

Eamon an Chnoic, also known as Ned of the Hill

Cé hé sin amuigh, atá báite fuar, fliuch.