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'I have no excuse not to practise the piano!'


The piano is important once more in my life
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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But writing about music and not only problems in music, writing about musicians, writing about the joy of music, the mystery of music, I wanted to revive my own piano playing. I’d played the piano as a boy, but my music teacher had died when I was about 13 years old, I think in 1946. And... and now after a gap of 62 years, I was to look for a piano teacher, a new piano teacher and through... this was partly through the good efforts and the insistence of a... of the piano tuner, a fine musician himself called Patrick Baron. I have a lovely piano which you can see in the background. It’s an 1894 Bechstein. It was my father’s piano and he loved it and when he got too arthritic to play it himself, he sent it to me. Patrick would come and... now, I would, sort of, often dash off a piece in a... in a sort of, careless way, but my... any piano technique I had... had vanished. And actually, I didn’t touch the piano all that much. Patrick Baron would come and tune it at intervals and say, 'This piano needs to be played and you need to play'. He gave me the names of some piano teachers and I never acted on this, so one day in 2008 he said, 'Look, I can’t trust you'. He said, 'Can I phone, right now, one of these piano teachers?' He phoned piano teacher number one and left a message, but piano teacher number two was there and in the flesh, a woman called Faine Wright, actually, a great-great niece or something of the Wright brothers. And Faine is my beloved piano teacher who’s... who has really made me work hard and now I think I appreciate Bach fugues and intricate contra counter music as never before. I think one can’t appreciate music fully without... without playing it. You can love it, you can swoon over it, but it’s... anyhow, the piano has become very important for me. I play it and practice, after a fashion, every day.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Bechstein, Patrick Baron, Faine Wright

Duration: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012