A few weeks ago, I mentioned here that I’m working on a children’s book about 19th century pianist Clara Schumann. This project has required a lot of research, which I enjoy. Here’s a sample of what I’ve learned.
As a little girl, Clara spoke so seldom her parents thought she might be deaf. When she was about 5 years old her father, Friedrich Wieck, discovered she could hear music. He started teaching Clara to play the piano. The schedule was strict, especially for a small child: a daily one-hour lesson followed by two hours of practice. Playing music unlocked something inside Clara. Before long, she talked as much as other children her age. And she was on her way to becoming a piano virtuoso.
Life was not easy with a control freak for a father. Perhaps this is the most telling evidence of Friedrich Wieck’s extreme nature: He started a diary for Clara when she was 7. At first, he wrote the entries himself, pretending to be Clara. Later, he dictated what Clara should write. This went on until she left home at age 19.
Clara married composer Robert Schumann, who suffered from mental illness. It fell mostly to her to take care of their large family. When Robert died in 1856, she was only 36 years old. She supported her 7 surviving children by giving concerts. Robert’s music was a major part of her repertoire.
The piano was Clara’s livelihood, her solace, and her voice.
The piano has never been my livelihood. But it does provide solace, calming and comforting me in times of upset. And it gives me a voice.
At an independent-living facility where I play during lunch, two Fridays a month, a woman recently stopped by the piano and said she liked my music. She went on, “When I’m sitting way over there at my table, I can tell if it isn’t you playing.” Then she leaned in close and quietly added, “Don’t tell anybody. Just between you and me.” That was her polite way of saying she doesn’t like some of the other pianists who visit.
I’m pleased to have developed a recognizable style at the piano, one my audiences seem to like. It’s my musical voice.
Writing, too, gives me a voice. One I can use to say what I want, to finish my thought without being cut off or interrupted. A voice that can’t be taken away.
A friend who follows this blog says reading a post is like having a visit with me.
She hears my voice. And she’s listening.
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey