Thoughts about the journey through life.

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
President
ANRPiano.com



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
President
ANRPiano.com



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
President
ANRPiano.com



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
President
ANRPiano.com



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
President
ANRPiano.com



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
President
ANRPiano.com



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
President
ANRPiano.com



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 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
President
ANRPiano.com



I had always wanted to immerse myself into the study of large amounts of piano literature. A few years ago I quit waiting for an opportunity and committed to the opportunities I already had. I “subjected” my church to all of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues of book one and all of Beethoven’s sonatas.

One of the inspirations for doing this came from years ago watching Steve Vaught, aka Fat Man Walking, walk across the USA. Steve had a number of personal demons, the least of which was his diet. He set out to walk across the country from San Diego to New York as a means to regain a sense of purpose and direction for his life.

For myself, I had always been a poor sight reader and very slow learner (among countless other deficiencies). I had been nibbling around the edges of these problems for years, but had never really committed to solving them. (I don’t know if they can be solved, because you can always be a better reader and faster learner). After reading about Mr. Vaught’s journey I decided to set out on my own.

I had read through Book One of the Well Tempered Clavier while in college, and like everybody else, learned a handful. My teacher William Phemister had played the complete cycle of Book One the year before I had entered Wheaton College and people were still talking about it the next year. I had also listened to some complete recordings and had lost myself in the beauty and uniqueness of this work. What a great addition to one’s repertory than the complete Preludes and Fugues, so I decided to give it a try.

I interspersed the Preludes and Fugues with movements of Beethoven’s Sonatas and began to work my way through both collections. I finished the Bach first. I started the second book but lost interest and moved over to his piano toccatas. (I have since returned to both sets and am once more doing the complete cycle, this time doing both P&F’s in each key at the same time)

The sense of completing such a large project is enormously satisfying. It would have been easy to give up anywhere along the way and just do something different… no one would have known… except myself. I could live with everybody else, but living with myself is a completely different matter all together.

The setting of an immediate deadline; I had to have something new to play every Sunday, kept my mind very focused on being productive with every minute I practiced.

Learning from my failures along the way taught me more than my successes. There were some Sundays I would have preferred to crawl into a hole behind the piano with embarrassment over how I had just played. I learned more about what it would take to be successful the next time after these failures. I learned to better judge the amount of work I would need to do to get difficult technical passages under control quickly.

I also learned about staying within my abilities. The difference between a good clean performance and one filled with stubbles is often only a notch or two on the metronome. The audience is less aware of a slow tempo than they are a mistake filled performance. (I told that to my students all of time, I should listen to myself!)

My sight reading and absorption rates did improve significantly through all of this, and for that I am glad. However, more importantly, I have a much deeper understanding of these two giants of keyboard literature. Immersion study is the best method for mastering a language and immersing yourself in a composer’s total output, I have found, is the best way to come to understand the totality of their output. I now understand how superficial my knowledge of other is composers even if I know a dozen of their works.

There are still many journeys yet to come. Some I will chose, and some will chose me. I am rounding the corner on this one, coming into the home stretch, and I can see that I am returning to where I began and knowing it for the first time.

Andrew Remillard
President
ANRPiano.com