When my daughter graduated from high school in June, she also graduated from her piano studies — at least, for now. She’s simply too busy with college classes and her part-time job at a bookstore to devote her scarce free time to Chopin, Tchaikovsky and tedious scales.
A baby grand piano is meant to be used, and often. So when my family’s piano teacher and dear friend, Kira Merzhevskaya, called a few weeks ago with a wild and wonderful proposition, how could I resist?
“Katushka, there is something you need again in your life,” said Kira, using the Russian “Little Cathy” nickname she gave me after we met when she immigrated to Salt Lake City almost 30 years ago.
I knew immediately what was coming next:
“It’s time for you to once again study the piano,” she said. “Your piano must be played every day and you are now the perfect one to do it.”
I could think of 1,001 reasons why I shouldn’t do as she suggested (finding time to practice, for one), but Kira is not one to back down once she’s made up her mind. Now 85, she survived the 900-day siege of Leningrad as a child during World War II. And when she immigrated with her husband and two sons to Salt Lake City in 1990, she took a job as a night custodian so that she could save up to buy a used piano.
When I wrote a column about her and her family for The Salt Lake Tribune, Kira had been in Salt Lake City for less than a month. She didn’t speak any English and I didn’t know any Russian, but no matter. We soon became good friends and Kira convinced me to take up the piano again at age 28. I started with the Tchaikovsky Children’s Primer she’d brought with her from Russia and I kept going from there. When I became a first-time mom at age 36, though, it quickly became apparent that something had to give. I put my piano on studies on hold — for 22 years.
Instead, both of my children took lessons from Kira at age 5 and continued through the end of high school. Their time in front of the keys each week with their devoted (and gently strict) teacher colored their lives in beautiful ways that resonate to this day. I am convinced that piano lessons helped them to master math, chemistry and science, learn good study habits and develop an appreciation and love for classical music and lazy weekends riffing away at the blues.
With my daughter moving into her own apartment soon, Kira sensed that I would need the music to continue in my life, and she’s right. Rather than feel sad about the silence that will creep in when my daughter moves out, Kira has convinced me that it will be an uplifting experience to fill my living space with joyful noise — even if on some afternoons, it might just be me and the cat to hear it.
So onward I go, beginning next week. After a quick review of that children’s primer, I plan to ease into “The Nutcracker” in time for Christmas, and perhaps sneak in my favorite “Linus and Lucy” tune. Although Kira has always insisted that her students stick with the classics (Vivaldi, not Vince Guaraldi), she’ll hopefully remember that variety is the key to keeping her oldest — and most restless — student sane and happy.
Besides, a little bribery is in order if she wants me to appear at her recital this spring with a bunch of 6-year-old musical prodigies. 😉🎼🎶