Pianists and the Art of Saying Thank You

There’s no such thing as a self-made pianist. Even those players eschew formal lessons have absorbed the teachings and skills of countless musicians who came before them.  Those of us who are privileged enough to have been given lessons from an early age are particularly indebted to our teachers.  We’ve been shaped through thousands of hours of guidance and instruction.  Through this knowledge we’ve been given the ability to sit at the keyboard, open a musical score, and coax beauty out of an instrument composed of metal and wood.  

Gratitude.  It’s not something we think of often enough as musicians.  As we work with ourselves and the score it’s too easy to see our inadequacies and failings.  We work to bring our music to the wider world but we despair at how often the art we love is received with blank indifference.  We forget it’s a privilege to play this music—that it’s a privilege to be healthy and wealthy enough to have the strength to press the keys and the finances to purchase the piano.  

In the course of preparing for an upcoming concert, I’ve revived several pieces I learned decades ago.  In the scores I find markings from previous teachers, reminders that this music I know so well has been shaped by my collaboration with wise instructors.  Through their annotations I’m reminded to release notes here or take extra time there.  In this way, their musical fingerprints are all over every performance of these pieces that I give.  

Our gratitude extends beyond teachers when we remember that it’s a luxury to have so many easily accessible recordings of pianists greater than ourselves.  It’s a luxury to have parents or mentors who faithfully wrote checks for lessons and attended years of recitals.  It’s a luxury to sit at the keyboard on a sunny morning and have the time to work on fingering or refining a technical passage.  We forget these gifts at our peril.    

There’s beauty in gratitude and grace in saying thank you.  It’s in a phrase that effortlessly leaves the hands.  It’s in the smooth feel of the keys under the fingertips.  It’s in the breathless wonder of knowing that for a brief moment you—failings and foibles and all—have been visited by beauty in all her heart-stopping glory.  

To be anything less than grateful would be churlish.