Thoughts about the journey through life.

One of the most devastating things a fellow student said to me early in my freshman year of college was: “Everybody has to start some place.” The Op. 2 #1 was my first Beethoven Sonata I ever played. It seemed though that everybody else had already learned this work and I was pretty late to the game. We all go to college as a big fish from small ponds, but coming from a town of 3000 I think I felt this even more acutely. And to hear from one of my classmates that she considered me a minnow it just added to my feelings of inadequacy.

Whether it was real or imagined, I felt my classmate’s estimation of my abilities was shared by my teachers as well. At this point I had a choice to make; I could accept what others said was my lot in life or I could set out to make a liar of them. I chose the latter.

Success always requires a significant price, I decided early in my freshman year to pay the price demanded. I believed if I worked harder than anybody else I could make up for any deficiencies I might possess. If two hours of practice was expected I did four or more. I would be there when the music building opened in the morning and would work until I was kicked out at night.

The effort certainly paid off in the end and has continued to pay dividends my entire life. While my playing still has significant weaknesses, the Beethoven Sonatas is no longer one of them.

Self image is just that. The image we have of ourselves. The best part of this image is that it is very malleable. By making a decision to do the work required for success, regardless if we achieve that ultimate outcome, we will know that we were worthy of the effort. Even in failure we learn because our focus is not on other’s opinions, but rather on accomplishing great things.

With each step in this process we grow in stature in our own eyes because we know we are making the effort. The image we hold of our self is based only upon our own choices and efforts, not someone else. All efforts to build “self esteem” are doomed to failure because they are based upon someone else telling us we are great and deserving regardless of our efforts. In our hearts we know this is a lie.

Our self image or self esteem comes from knowing we were in the arena, fighting the good fight. And even if we come out bloodied and beaten we know the value of our efforts and the honor is ours for just being in the arena. This is something no one can give us or take away from us because it has been wholly earned by us alone.

Andrew Remillard

Recently I was visiting with a fellow traveler in the piano world. He is one of the few people I have met in my life who has traveled a nearly parallel road as mine. He is a piano tuner and rebuilder, teacher, and has a similar education as my own. What a treat! In the course of our conversation I shared with him my experience as a church musician. His reaction showed me some of the unique advantages I had gained from my time behind the keyboards.

A little over 11 years ago I took a job at the New Life Lutheran Church of Bolingbrook as their organist. Now I had a semester’s worth of organ lessons in college and had “played” the organ for a couple of years at another church but I was and am no organist. But, as someone always willing to do something new and challenging I jumped in.

As time went on I quickly learned the liturgy and ran through the limited amount of music for both the piano and organ I had for the preludes and postludes. After repeating myself a few times I began to get bored with the whole process. I knew I wasn’t giving or getting everything out of the opportunity. So I decided to use the opportunity of needing a steady supply of new piano music to create a need and motivation for me to greatly expand my repertory. Rather than doing a scatter shot approach to learning new music, I decided to play through more systematically the repertory of the piano.

I started very simply with the Clementi Sonatinas and much of Anna Magdalena Bach book. I moved on to other literature of Chopin, Mednter, Debussy, Beethoven, and Bach. A funny thing happens when you set out to learn 5 – 10 minutes of new music every week; after few years, you have really learned a lot of music.

I am not sharing this to brag, but to encourage those of you with a similar opportunity and need to take full advantage of the discipline such a situation can place you under. I have become a big advocate of learning complete cycles of music. I cannot begin to explain everything I learned about music, Beethoven, the sonata, or myself after playing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s sonatas or Bach’s 48. Even if the cycle is as small as Bach’s 2 Part Inventions, learning and playing them all will give you a unique perspective quite different from knowing only a few.

Andrew Remillard

“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

We have all heard about how “social media” is going to change the way we do business and organize our lives. While this may be true I have had the unfortunate experience recently of seeing personally how this new media can be very destructive to one’s business and reputations.

I have always found it tacky and unseemly to solicit referrals and complimentary letters. I figured I would let my work stand or fall on its own merits. After being in business for 25 years and growing pretty steadily even through some very difficult years in our industry, I assumed I was correct in my practice. Then along came these new social media. As any of you who have been practicing your art and business for any length of time have learned you cannot please everybody all of the time and there are some who are impossible to please no matter what you do or say. In the past, we could just let these people go their way and be glad they were out of our lives. Not anymore.

Now these people have a large public forum in which they can veritably scream their displeasure and not be bothered with truth or fairness. And folks, you are defenseless against such an attack. They can say anything they want and give you a low rating with unsubstantiated accusations. This becomes a permanent record of your business for the whole world to see.

As we all know complainers are much more vocal than those who complement, so in the normal flow of life they will leave a much larger mark. In these new forums, if those who would compliment your business don’t bother to do so, all you are left with are the complainers. And it doesn’t take many to make you look very bad.

So, here I am now asking you, if you have ever done business with ANR Piano, and whether you were 100% satisfied or not, would you mind sharing your thoughts? After seeing how much damage a few negative, unbalanced comments can make, I have made it a point to spread as much good rating as possible, especially among the small businesses which would be hurt the most by these professional complainers.

Even if you have some honest complaints, I would love to hear about it. I know as ANR Piano has grown rapidly over the past several years we have not always been able to live up to our standards of customer service. We have often become over whelmed just trying to manage our growth and too often things slip through the cracks.

I think the take-away from my experience with these impossible-to-please folks is that regardless of the challenging people we encounter in our journey we need to stay focused on our goals and continue to serve our fellow humans as best we can. We cannot worry about those disturbed souls who would prefer we were all as miserable as they. None of us are perfect, nor do we always provide perfect service, but our humanity and occasional failings do not diminish all of the good we otherwise do.

Andrew Remillard

This is the most destructive word which can ever be uttered! It is forbidden in my studio for it is a lie. Unless you are missing a finger or a hand, you most certainly can, you just need some help and time. “Can’t” means I quit and accept failure; it is a statement of finality.

Another word which will get my ire is: “try”. In the words of the great philosopher Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try.” “Try” implies “I expect to fail.” What a self-fulfilling prophesy! It is much better to say: “I will do this!” and then determine what must be done to succeed. If you decide that the cost of “doing” is too great then you can decide to “do not”. The use of these simple words changes our focus from anticipated success to expected failure.

While this does not guarantee success it certainly increases the chances of success and it makes us much more uplifting and encouraging people to be around.

Andrew Remillard

As I waited for my left hand to heal from surgery, I took the opportunity to explore the very limited literature for the right hand alone. There has been very little ever written for just the right hand at the piano. However I did find one interesting nugget. Charles Alkan wrote a series of Etudes in his Op. 76. The first one is for the left hand, the second is for the right hand, and the final is for the hands reunited. These are substantial works with the Right Hand Etude running about 24 pages. It is written in a theme and variation format. It has the expected Alkan challenges but sits very well in the hand.

For therapeutic purposes I have returned to playing the 15 Two Part Inventions of Bach. One of the most interesting editions of these and the Three Part Sinfonias is the Alfred Edition with Willard Palmer as the editor. As part of the preface of each set, Mr. Palmer produces a chart of about 15 different performances, editions, and commentaries’ tempos. For most of the works there is about a 100% difference between the fastest and slowest tempos. As an initial part of my rehabilitation I am exploring how to create effective interpretations at the slower tempos. As my hand improves I will move to the other side of the scale and explore the changes which occur in the character of these pieces as their tempos increase.

One aspect of much of Bach’s music which has always fascinated me has been the flexibility of his music to make sense at a wide variety of tempos. There is content within every note such that even pieces which are traditionally played very fast such as the 4th invention in d minor can be played quite expressively at a slow tempo as well.

Andrew Remillard

I, like most pianists, have a long and at times sordid history with Monsieur Hanon. As I begin to rehab my left hand I thought that maybe a return to the simplicity and repetitive nature of Hanon may be just the therapy I needed to restore coordination and strength following the surgery.

Going through my filing cabinets I found my original copy of Book One of Hanon’s virtuous exercises. I was a little taken back by the dates my first teacher, Velma Snodden, (yes, the little old lady down the street) had written into the book. I had started this endeavor in my second year of lessons. Upon completion of this book with her I moved on to the unending joys of Czerny.

My next contact with dear Charles was my freshman year at college. My teacher said he preferred the “pure” technical work of Hanon to the quasi-musical works of Czerny, so back to Charley I went. Somewhere along the way I had heard it is best to play these gems in all 12 keys, and certainly you can do better than the posted speed limit of 108 to the quarter. So always being one to over-do everything, I spent my youthful energy working every one of the first 20, in all 12 keys, to the magical speed of 144 to the quarter note. Ah, the follies of youth.

I did succeed in my endeavor and in the end asked myself if it had really been worth the effort. There is no way to truly answer this question, though I think I did reach an answer because I never used them in my teaching and had never once played them again after reaching this milestone.

And now here I am in my maturity returning to Monsieur Hanon’s exercises in the hope I will be able to play again at the level I had become accustomed. The paths we take through life sometimes takes us back to where we began for the most unexpected of reasons.

Andrew Remillard

When I last visited these pages I had just had surgery on my left hand and was experiencing the usual post-operative pain issues. That began to change about the 5th day after my surgery. My hand became increasingly sore and I found the bandages more irritating by the day. At the followup appointment with my surgeon it was determined I had an infection in my hand and I was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, IL.

By the time I arrived at the ER I was in pain such that I have never experienced nor wish to ever experience again. I was given several doses in quick succession of a pain medication 4 times stronger than morphine just to bring the pain to a manageable level where I could participate in discussions about my condition with the physicians. The next morning I had surgery to install 3 drains in my hand and to take tissue samples of the infection. While these cultures matured I was put on broad spectrum antibiotics and continued with significant pain medications. I was released 5 days later only to be readmitted a couple of hours later when the infection reasserted itself. I had another drain put into my hand and continued with broad spectrum antibiotics and antibiotics specific to my pathology. After nearly 8 total days I was released again and am now home.

The surgery seems to have been successful, though my rehab has been delayed due to the infection, but every day I have less pain and more mobility and strength.

I spent both stays at Good Sam on the 53rd Ward. If you have ever had to stay in the hospital for a long duration under very trying and frightening conditions you know how critical the nursing and nursing aid staff is to your recovery. I cannot sing my praises of these tireless angels of mercy loud enough. The effects of heavy narcotics and unremitting pain through long lonely nights can leave you in a very fragile state. The care and compassion I received from these exemplary professionals will never be forgotten.

I came to learn that there was a whole host of brothers and sisters holding me up in prayer throughout this long ordeal. I learned what it means to be carried by others when I couldn’t carry even myself.

Andrew Remillard

One week ago today I underwent reconstructive surgery on my left thumb. I appreciate all of the prayers and well wishes I have received.

I have a pretty substantial cast on my left hand and a pin in my thumb. I will have a cast and pin for another three weeks or so.

I have taken this time as an opportunity to explore literature I never would have even considered; music for the right hand. I knew there was not nearly as much written for the right had as for the left hand, I surprised how little has been written for the mano destra. I did find an Etude by Alkan for the right hand which is from a set of three etudes, one for the left hand, one for the right hand, and then the last one for “hands reunited”. While the piano is more idiomatic for left hand only music, this Alkan etude is a marvelous piece of music. It is very melodic while simultaneously demanding significant virtuosic skills. As with the limited amount of Alkan music I have studied, I have found it to be challenging yet not from being needlessly awkward or full of un-pianistic passages. Everything fits very nicely under the hand; it just requires a good deal of skill to execute up to tempo. I have very much enjoyed the few hours I have spent with Op. 76 #2.

Yesterday I even managed to play a few notes with my left hand while working with a student on an easy Haydn Sonata. It was a bit awkward with a three pound cast on my hand but I encouraged by the complete lack of pain which is something I haven’t experienced in that hand for several months.

Andrew Remillard

My hand surgery is two days from now. I gave up trying to make my left hand play the piano over a week ago; it simply can’t do it anymore. I am trying to keep myself distracted from my impending challenges, but I usually fail.

However this afternoon and evening I lost myself in the smell of spruce and feel of fine wood dust on my skin as I began building a new soundboard for a customer’s piano. The hours slipped by unnoticed as I first laid out the dimensions of the new ribs and then began the peaceful process of measuring, cutting, sanding, cutting, and sanding some more. There are few more satisfying feelings than working with a chisel sharp enough to give you a very close shave as it cuts through a maple piano rim as if it were basswood. So for a few moments, as Maria Tipo played through Bach’s Partitas, I went to a place of calm and peace.

Two months ago I played a recital without any problems and now I am unable to play at all. This reminded me again how we must live our lives in dependence and submission to our Father. We may think we know where we are going and what will allow us to live a well lived life, but tomorrow you can lose everything. If after Friday’s surgery and the two months of recovery, I am unable to play in the manner I have become accustomed to, will I be able to accept it as my Father’s will? After all I have been playing for over 40 years! I was hoping for at least another 25 or so, I have my best years ahead of me. Yet, in the words of our savior, “not my will, but thine, oh Lord.”

Andrew Remillard

This is a post I hardly expected to write. About 6 months ago I closed my 8,000 sq ft piano retail and rebuilding shop. I shrunk and moved my business back home; planning on an idyllic semi-retired life. I planned on working about a half of a day and getting back to all the practicing and performing I had put off most of my adult life. I did get started and then something happened to derail my careful and much anticipated plans. I have lost the use of my left thumb due to rapidly growing arthritis.
Surgery is scheduled for this Friday to remove the arthritis which has locked my thumb half way under my palm and to reconstruct the basal joint.

I played a recital in early February without even a hint of a problem. By the end of February I knew something very serious was happening because I had lost about half of my mobility by then. I met with my surgeon who laid out my unpleasant options: do nothing, periodic cortisone injections or surgery. The first two options would do nothing to restore the function in the hand. So there really was no choice in the matter. I had hoped to last a few more months before I had to have my hand cut open, but by the end of March I had lost virtually all movement and had to quit playing altogether. My voice has been silenced.

My surgeon assured me that this procedure has become pretty routine with good results. While that may be true, it is not routine to cut open my hand. I have much fear and trepidation as I contemplate what may happen as a result of this operation.

To say that this has been disappointing and stressful is the understatement of the year. I have learned again to rely upon my faith in God’s purpose and the Holy Spirit’s leading in my life. I will continue to write and share my experience through this ordeal. I would dearly love to hear from anybody who has been down this road themselves.

Andrew Remillard