a long time ago in Mt Waverley
Anna Goldsworthy’s haunting Piano Lessons is making a reappearance as a play. Wonderful. Limelight magazine is asking for short reminiscences from colleagues about their own first lessons and first teachers. Here is mine.
Mr Hurst, whose first name none of us can recall, came into our lives on the suburban fringe of Melbourne with his dapper suit and Valiant sedan when I was six years old. With his cultured Jewish ways and kindly manner, he coaxed my elder brother Chris and me to play duet versions of ‘Hot Cross Buns’ and ‘The Sailor’s Hornpipe’ and patiently, if unenthusiastically, guided us through John Thompson’s lacklustre and old-fashioned Piano Course. Although he taught me exactly the wrong way to play octaves*, he did the one thing that all good teachers ought to remember to do: he encouraged. And along the way he introduced me to one of my lifelong loves, the sublime and gnostic musical world of Robert Schumann. Soon afterwards, I was sent to learn with a rather formidable lady, Marta Rostas, a Hungarian emigrée who had trained at the Liszt Academy and who brooked no nonsense from rough boys. I cried at my very first lesson, not because of any harshness of hers but because of the standard she embodied, which I instantly sensed was beyond me. She was best friends with Mr Hurst’s first wife, Hedy, who would teach me German and meet me in Vienna while I was a student there, many years later. But that’s another story.
*”Put your thumb on C; now, put your fifth finger on the C above. Clench your hand. All you have to do now is to hold your hand stiff and go up and down the keyboard.’ Do not try this at home, folks.