By one of those twists of fate that seem to arrive in my life quite regularly—to my amazed delight—I had the privilege recently of listening to a genius play the piano.
His name is David Saliamonas, a pale young man who does not appear, at a glance, to have the strength and energy to play, at full force, and with extraordinary modulations of tone and intensity, an hour and a half of solo piano music.
He played a mixed repertoire—Chopin, Scriabin, Gershwin. I was sitting close enough to see his limber, long fingered white hands mastering the keyboard, at times with darts and crossovers, at times with a smooth fingering that made the keys seem a part of his fingers.
And what a sound.
My dear old baby grand, on which I tried to learn to play beginner’s scales years ago, delivered up its possibilities—which I had never dreamed of. The audience sat rapt. Afterwards, when David sat, pale and exhausted, on a chair, it seemed to me that we listeners had all but devoured him—or at least devoured his extraordinary gift.
And I was reminded of the final lines in Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo”:
“For here there is no place
that does not see you.
You must change your life.”
When I teach writing, I always see hints and glimmers of genius in my students. But these hints and glimmers do not cause a change in the writer’s life, and over many years of work, distraction, family, and so forth, they are snuffed out.
I have the same issue. There are so many obligations, so many treats and distractions, and I, too, have failed—until now—to change my life to accommodate the books I still want and need to write.
But I have an example in this brilliant pianist.
And I have another example: the rhumba I performed, with my dancing partner and teacher, Lawrence Black, at Dance Station’s biannual Showcase. There are moments for me, in dancing, often ignited not only by the beautiful precision of the steps, but by the old-time romanticism of the music—in this case, “The Way You Look Tonight”—that bring my glimmer of talent as a dancer into full, flaming existence. And it is then that I remember what it takes to keep that flame glowing, and growing: full-time dedication. And I am called in a different direction.
So I must satisfy myself with a two minute routine, twice a year, to an admiring audience. As for the rest—I must change my life.