Drawing by Saul Steinberg

Pianos are splendid. Here is a book that explains with brio how they came to be.

My friend Julan Chu, a gifted pianist, lent me a fine, shiny piano. It felt wrong to have it and not to play it, so I began to take lessons again last January.

Julan Chu -portrait by Julie Paschkis 2003

My lessons became virtual when the pandemic arrived, and they also became more important to me. The discipline of practicing scales and pieces has been an anchor (a metronome?) during these strange times.

In the book Dancing Hands, Margarita Engle tells the story of the pianist, composer and singer Teresa Carreño, who immigrated to the U.S.A. from Venezuela during the Civil War. This book tells the story of the power of music in light and dark times- like a piano it conveys a whole range of emotions. Click here for a link to the illustrator Rafael Lopez’s fantastic blog about how he illustrated the book.

Although I am practicing and playing through dark and cloudy times, you wouldn’t illustrate my attempts with vivid blossoms. My hands stumble and squawk more often than they dance.

Christoph Niemann

But it is interesting to try, and it is satisfying to see incremental change. Every once in a while I can make music.

Petr Vasilievich Miturich

When I am at the piano I need to let everything else go, which is difficult. I realize how fractured my attention has become. Practicing requires presence.

In May Christoph Niemann published a graphic essay in the New York Times about the solace of learning piano as an adult during the pandemic.  (Click HERE for a link.) He brilliantly illustrated the pain and the pleasure of the practice. Now he has turned that essay into a book: Pianoforte.

His illustrations are perfectly compressed ideas – succinct, funny, and true to my experiences.

He shows the frustrations …

the side benefits…

and the ephemeral pleasures.


I had to include actual music in this post!  Please click HERE for a link to Ballade No. 15 , composed by Teresa Carreño, played by Alexandra Oehler.

And here is a link to the website of my fantastic piano teacher, Carrie Kahler. She teaches young children as well as adults. Because the lessons are virtual you could sign up no matter where you live.

What has kept you going during the pandemic? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Thank you.


22 responses to “Piano

  1. I work with cloth. So I made an angry Covid quilt, then a Wall of Tranquility quilt because I needed it in the face of all the disruption. Then I’ve done 3 auto-biographical quilts– one, Parts of my Life, the next Me with my Milagros surrounding the outline of my body & now the myriad of ways that I measure out my life. All of this relates to me having passed by 80th birthday in July & the shock of having lots of time to reflect on my life!
    My textile & other work can be seen via sewdaphne.blogspot.ca.

    • Thanks for your message. Quilting and sewing have carried people through a lot! And then the quilts live on. I particularly like your Grey Moths quilt, and your life in 8 parts.


  2. Beautiful post. My husband is learning to play the guitar. Finally. He doesn’t work due to covid, so there are no more excuses. Let’s just say it is rather painful to listen to at this point, but I don’t mind.

  3. I love this post so much! U know just how to pull such interesting images together to make something beautiful. As much as I love RL & his beautiful art (I own several of his original pieces) I had not read this background about Dancing Hands! Loved it! The piano is so special & I hate to admit the beautiful one in my living room sits unattended while I listen to author/illustrator podcasts, webinairs & book programs . Every blog post of your brings such joy! ❤️Cathy Bonnell

    • Thank you, Cathy!
      ….I don’t know if the amount of interesting material on-line has increased, or if we just have more time to see it. There are all kinds of music and dance concerts streaming now too.

  4. What wonderful images. Thanks for these and for the links!

  5. Even if your piano playing isn’t sending out flowers on every tune, your story is. Thanks for the beauty.

  6. I cranked up the sound, clicked on the music, leaned back with my eyes closed and enjoyed the music. All of a sudden I felt a smile come across my face. Thank you for the moment of tranquility. Love the illustrations in both the books. Look forward to reading them to my granddaughter, who I would like to get into music lessons. Always love your post.

    • Thank you!
      I just added a link to my piano teacher onto the blog. She teaches very young children as well as adults. Maybe your gransdaughter would like her!

  7. This is a glorious post bursting with things I want to read . . . . and with stunning art. Thank you, Julie!!! I am a lapsed piano player, although it still gives me pleasure to fumble my way through old favourites. As you know, I devote more time to yoga . . . . . and it occurs to me that our work on our asanas is very similar to our work as writers, editors, artists and musicians . . . . constantly considering and refining . . . . .

    • I do think there is a connection in all of those things. In yoga the movement of the asanas helps me to clear my mind. When I am practicing the piano I lose the notes whenever my mind wanders. And when I first sit down at the keyboard my mind feels like popcorn, or a swarm of insects.

  8. Baking, and especially learning how to make really good bread, has helped during the pandemic. It gives me something to look forward to. Also I do pottery and that is fun and rewarding.

  9. I LOVE your post!! And the children’s books you’ve mentioned. Also Pianoforte looks awesome! And now….now….I feel the need to sit down at my keyboard and practice. I’ve been missing it! But writing has been holding me together during this past year….and ping pong…LOL My husband converted our dining room to a martial arts/yoga/music/ping pong room. We may never have a real dining room again!

  10. Love this post. Excited to hear you’re taking piano lessons. You’ve inspired me to show my dusty neglected piano some love. 🙂

  11. This reminded me of a play that I stage managed years ago–https://newdramatists.org/tammy-ryan/music-lesson
    where the piano and giving lessons figured prominently…as well as the war in Sarajevo. Thanks for the memory.

    • Thanks for the comment. I went to the website – it sounds like an interesting play. Lots of interweaving themes -like Bach.
      Do you know about Flowers for Sarajevo, by John McCutcheon? It’s a children’s book about the cellist who played in Sarajevo during the Bosnian wa, and about beauty and kindness transcending war and suffering.

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