In the distance, I can hear someone practising piano. Last night, until about 9:30 PM, it was harmonic minor scales. Maybe it’s a music school. How can someone practice at all hours in a day?
As a pianist, being able to practice has always been a concern. Would I be disturbing my neighbors? Would someone knock on the door and ask me to stop?
Owning a piano does not mean I get to practice it.
Ironically, now that I’m in a hotel in the city of Taichung in Taiwan, I quite welcome the sound of someone practising the piano. It’s a familiarity that’s reassuring. It’s not piped, electronic music. It’s not radio. There’s an actual person behind the piano.
In Houston, I learned that my neighbors loved that I practised the piano. When I knocked on my neighbor’s door to warn him about an upcoming going away party in which I had invited a violinist to duo with me, his remark was not what I expected. “You mean, you are leaving?!? That’s too bad.”
In London, after spending three months searching for a flat that was big enough to hold a baby grand piano with access wide enough to move it upstairs, I was hugely discouraged to discover that my neighbors didn’t want me to practice. I could only practice early in the morning when they’ve left for work.
In Bussum, a village of 10,000 in the outskirts of Amsterdam, I was constantly checking to see if my next door neighbor was home. He once knocked on the door to ask me to stop playing. I wasn’t playing the piano. It was the classical guitar.
In Utrecht, one set of neighbors loved the sound of music making. The other set asked to close our windows tight.
Practice is not performance. The minute I’m aware someone is listening to my practice, I’m no longer practising but performing. That’s what I tell my students. Every performance is a rehearsal for the next one. You need to practise to perform. But piano practice is not meant to invite an audience.
I can imagine a musician, lost in a strange city, to seek out the origin of the piano practice. For now, I’m content hearing it in the distance.