Songs in the Key of Friendship

Playing piano duets with my best friend of 34 years is more than a challenge — it’s the soundtrack of our relationship.

By Selma Moss-Ward
I, on the other hand, have become fiercer over time." She pauses thoughtfully and adds, "Now we are complementary; the way we work with each other moves us forward."The summer after Italy, we spent a week playing duets by Dvorak at Kneisel Hall, a music institute in Maine. This time, I was secondo and Heather was primo; I pedaled and she turned pages. It was unseasonably humid, so our fingers slipped on the moist keys of the out-of-tune Steinways. Jeannette was also there, and she wanted us to play with precision, to astound the audience. "Make their hair stick out!" she commanded in her quirky English. We weren’t mean girls, exactly, but we weren’t Pollyannas either. A new persona emerged as we played with more precision, more intuition. We felt the music as an internal wave of meaning that we could express physically.The fact is, Heather and I play for each other — and occasionally for husbands and children, who politely appreciate our duet mania, perfunctorily applaud, then rush out. "When I practice my parts, I feel like I’m practicing for you," Heather says. "It brings me to a much higher level than if I were just dabbling around."I feel the same, but even more than that, I feel kinship as strong as family through this connection. When I play a duet with Heather, the conversation of music lets me express my joy in our friendship in a way that’s deeper than words. Selma Moss-Ward is an English Professor in Rhode Island.Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2006.

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