Piano for Those that Just Weren’t Destined to Play

September 16, 2012
By , Warren, NJ
Excluding prodigies, people are usually beginners when it comes to something new, ranging from art to knowing how to use chopsticks. The beginning is pure clumsiness, which creates a horrid yet hilarious effect. Luckily, most people become better at whatever they are doing with enough time, and the embarrassment that they once faced will transform into a well-earned pride. Unfortunately Michel Solovyov, a pianist, was never capable of this transformation. It wasn’t that he never practiced because he often spent grueling hours at his piano, relentlessly trying to make his fingers dance on the correct keys with the correct rhythm. He simply never got “it” and seemed doomed to remain a beginner until the end of his life. For him, there was not a single punishment in the history of the world that was more gruesome than that.

Michel Solovyov was born on June 17th 1918, precisely one month and one day before the end of the Romanov dynasty when Nicolas II and his family were shot by Russian communists. Then after another month and a day that the Romanov dynasty ended, his parents made a plan to flee Russia and smuggle themselves into the United States where they had a French friend in New York City. With their life savings, his parents paid a great number of people to ensure that the journey would be safe. They hastily packed away some clothes and the most precious things they owned into one small, leather suit case and prayed before they left. Once they were ready, they grabbed little Michel who was wrapped in a thin red cloth and their small suitcase into the car that would take them out of Russia. As they approached the border, they could see the shadows of people carrying guns. They prayed again that they would go unnoticed by the gunmen and hoped fate would be kind to them. However it turned out fate only released an explosive amount of anger and hate on them that day. The gunmen did see them, and both of his parents were shot with two bullets and died instantaneously. Though bullets flew everywhere, Michel, who had been lying on his mother’s lap, was safe from the gunfire. He cried through the whole scene, as a baby would, but Michel’s bawls could not be heard since they were drowned out by the sharp pangs of the bullets hitting the car. Michel still made it out of Russia alive because the driver who also miraculously managed to survive walked all the way to what was supposed to be the next point of the journey as he carried Michel in his arms out of the goodness in his heart.

Michel made his way across Europe, though the people his parents had hired could have very easily abandoned him on the streets to die. After all, they already got the money, but the nostalgia behind a poor, newly orphaned infant dying was too much for them to handle. He eventually reached New York City and was placed in a basket in front of his parents’ French friend’s apartment with a shred of paper that read: “ARRIVAL: SEPTEMBER 7. PARENTS DEAD.” Unfortunately the French friend never knew that a baby was coming as well, and thus had absolutely no information on him. To her, she had just found a random baby wrapped in a red cloth and a mysterious note on her doorstep. It took her a while to realize that it was her friends’ baby and she (also out of the goodness of heart) adopted him upon this realization. She hardly had time to mourn over her friends’ death since there was so much she needed to figure out. She didn’t even know the infant’s name since no one ever told her about him, resulting in her giving him a new name. The French friend named him after her own father, Michel, and gave the baby the last name that she knew his parents had. So Michel was technically not Michel’s true name.

Under the guidance of his new French mother, Michel grew to be an exceptional person, destined for greatness. He was very strong and turned out to be a remarkably intelligent person, being able to speak and read French at an early age, and being able to speak and read English at an even earlier age. Michel did not have a talent to make friends however since he was very reserved and preferred to keep his distance from everyone else, and having a girl name only worsened this (He pronounced his name as “Michelle”, which was how it was supposed to be in French in any case). He didn’t care anyway. It wasn’t until he was thirteen that his French mother introduced him to the piano. When she first suggested the idea of him playing the piano, Michel was thrilled by the thought of a musical instrument, just like all the musicians on the radio which he considered his heroes. His French mother suggested him playing the piano in the first place because she thought that it would only add to Michel’s intelligence and general advantage over everyone else.

For his first lesson, Michel arrived with his French mother at a school dedicated to the arts, which was in an old yet beautifully maintained building. The marble floors inside were shiny and polished, making Michel feel guilty about his muddy shoes that tainted the floor. Michel entered the music area where his French mother greeted a man with bushy caterpillar eyebrows. While they talked about something in French, Michel peeked over to the other side of the hall and saw dozens of ballerinas practicing in their tutus. Michel watched them, admiring them for their grace and how easily they could spin around, when his French mother suddenly pulled him out of his reverie and walked him over to the piano seat where the man with the caterpillar eyebrows was waiting. She subsequently left, and Michel was left with the caterpillar man who turned out to be named Mr. Dinall.

Mr. Dinall began by taking out a book and laid it in front of Michel, though all Michel could see was a bunch of circles located on different lines. As Michel looked at the book with befuddlement, Mr. Dinall then pointed to one circle and pressed on one of the keys to show where the notes were on the piano. He told Michel to follow suit, which Michel did flawlessly and led him to the conclusion that piano was an extremely easy instrument. However, once Mr. Dinall began to combine the notes, Michel’s success faltered. When he wanted to press one key, his finger seemed to instinctually press another, creating a cacophony akin to a cat shrieking while scraping its claw against a metal can. Outside, Michel’s piano playing threw off the balance of the ballerinas and everyone was trying to poke their heads in the room to find the source of the atrocious noise. His French mother, also upon hearing the noise, regretted her idea of allowing Michel to play the piano. At the end of an arduous hour, Mr. Dinall sent Michel home with a pile of music books.

When Michel got home, he immediately opened up all the books and sat at the piano, trying to hit the correct keys. His French mother sighed, happy that Michel was so dedicated yet exhausted by how awful the sound was. Weeks passed and there was literally no improvement. Mr. Dinall, normally a patient person, became frustrated by Michel’s lack of progress until he finally refused to teach Michel anymore. Michel’s piano playing had become infamous by then, and no decent piano teacher in the city wanted to take Michel in as a student. His French mother also wanted him to stop, but Michel’s passion caused her to take him in as her own student. With the few years of piano playing lessons that she had, she attempted to teach Michel how to coordinate his mind and fingers, gain the correct rhythm, and stop the abominable noise he usually created. This was all moot because he still made no progress. In some ways, this was how Michel’s French mother became mad, bedridden, and confused by the world around her. All the hope and pressure she had to endure to make Michel a proficient pianist tormented her brain and plagued her sanity. The different pills she took in desperation could not save her.

When Michel’s French mother died, he inherited all her possessions and the fortune she had built up. Michel’s passion for the piano still had not died out, and though he was aware of his lack of talent, he wanted to continue to learn and join the musicians he heard on the radio. Since he had enough money to survive, Michel quit school and spent every hour of every day of every week of every month practicing. He often forgot to eat and sleep, resulting in him becoming very weak and frail, just as his French mother was before she died. However, his attempts to make his fingers move as gracefully as how he saw the ballerinas danced still produced a sound as if he wasn’t trying and was only randomly banging the keys. The racket he created resonated throughout the whole building, keeping his neighbors up until they forced him out of the building and left him in the streets. At that point, most people would realize that the logical path was to go back into school and abandon the dreams of becoming a pianist. But Michel, headstrong as he was, did not consider this for the slightest moment. For him, all he needed was to go find another place where he could practice, and building after building, he made no improvement and only upset his neighbors for the dissonance.

After nearly a year, Michel had used up his French mother’s savings and was about to be turned out of his apartment. For once, Michel contemplated on how piano simply wasn’t right and how it was more suitable for him to find something else to do. He cried, despondent and lonely. Michel wandered the streets in the darkness, feeling lost, rejected, and above all, worthless. He wanted to just play something right, but he simply never could. It was a bewildering thing. He practiced so why didn’t he improve? Michel wanted to run away, to hide from his failures, and to get some relief or comfort. Thus, that was exactly as he did. He left his things behind, including the piano his French mother had gave him, and went to the train station. He asked the counter lady for the cheapest ticket out of the city, and Michel soon found himself boarding a train to some small town in the upper parts of New York.

It was raining when he arrived, and Michel quickly found shelter in a ramshackle hotel where he could wait until the rain stopped. When the sun shone and Michel went outside, he discovered a vibrant town, capable of relieving him of his sadness. He was freed from the enchanting institution piano had trapped him in and lived for once after too long of a time. It wasn’t long before he was reeled back into his prison for he found a flyer listing a teacher that claimed he could make anyone a piano master. The address was at the bottom of the page, and it seemed like it was demanding Michel to go there.

Michel followed the address where he found a quaint house surrounded by a massive garden. He made his way past the jungle of flowers and plants and knocked on the door. No one answered for a while until an austere looking man with white hair appeared. There was a fear this man struck into Michel so that he stood up sternly like a soldier while he inquired the man about the piano lessons. Upon hearing this, the man seemed to relax, introduced himself as Moreua, and welcomed Michel inside.

Moreua ordered Michel to sit on the piano bench where an old yet elegant piano was standing. While he wobbled into another room, Michel inspected the house. The inside was just as quaint as the outside; everything had an odd charm which created a very cosy atmosphere. He was studying a few figures of ballerinas dancing when Moreua suddenly entered with some sheet music in his hand. He placed the sheets in front of Michel, and asked what letter each note was. Michel replied without hesitating, listing each note like he had already memorized them. Moreua showed no expression on his face, and finally asked Michel to play the piece. Michel desperately wanted to impress him, but like all the other times, the noise he produced sounded like bullets flying into a person’s body rather than a soothing tune. Moreua still made no expression on his face, and coldly corrected the flaws. Moreua would always tell Michel not to be so stern when he played, and every night, the words would replay in Michel’s head.

“Don’t be so focused on playing the correct notes. Focus on playing what feels right, and then everything will sound natural and fall into place. Coordination is not always what piano is about.”

Michel went again and again until months had passed, and the hope and ambitions were permanently lost. Finally, Moreua banged his fist on the keys, causing Michel to jerk back. Moreua stood up, and told Michel that he was a lost cause. He told him that he just wasn’t destined to play piano, and he needed to find something else to do because he would never succeed, not in a million lifetimes. Moreua’s words were like someone had clawed their way through Michel’s heart and ripped it out for him to stare at. With that, as if he was a little girl, Michel began to sob in front of Moreua, who did nothing.

He cried like he had never before because he cried for his dead parents whom he never knew, and his French mother that he never really mourned when she died. In an odd madness, Michel abruptly ran back to his house, completely forgetting about Moreua who was still sitting there, and crashed onto the couch before he fell asleep and dreamt the greatest dream of his life.

Michel dreamt that he was at Carnegie Hall, showing off his skill to a large audience, and once he was done, the audience clapped loudly for him. He could hear the cheers, wave after wave, and the media would be everywhere, covering the story of the greatest pianist in the world. But he knew that would never happen and it didn’t matter anymore. So when he woke up, he sat at his piano, played as he felt like, though it was a giant train of discordant notes. Even the dog outside was barking at him, as if it were telling him to stop.





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