Master Chopin By Practicing Just 20 Minutes A Day

Here are 8 bits of wisdom from Play It Again that remind us that it is possible to make time for what matters most in the face of life’s demands and stresses.

Own Your Stress

Rusbridger is completely clear-eyed about just how stressful his job is, and by confronting — rather than denying — the reality of his stress, he’s able to seek out ways to reduce it. Being editor of the Guardian is “one of those jobs which expands infinitely to fill the time and then spill beyond it,” he writes. “An editor, particularly within a modern global media company, is never truly off duty.”

A typical day in the life of a newspaper editor, he writes, means “a hum of low-level stress much of the time, with periodic eruptions of great tension.”

Find Your Metaphor

When Rusbridger felt frustration and self-doubt — which was nearly all the time — he found it helpful to think of people who took on great challenges in different fields. This helped put his own project in perspective, and also let him feel solidarity with others who had taken on great challenges. He compares learning Chopin to climbing the Matterhorn, the forbidding mountain in the Alps.

He writes: “Jerry R. Hobbs, an American computational linguistics expert and amateur climber, described the mountain as ‘just about the hardest climb and ordinary person can do’, which, apropos the G minor Ballade, sounds familiar.”

You’re Not Alone

Rusbridger supplements his piano practice with lots of reading. One book in particular, Arnold Bennett’s 1910 How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, reminds him that the sense of having not enough time to do all we want to do is universal, and not exactly new.

As Bennett writes: “We never shall have any more time. We have, and we have always had, all the time there is.”

There’s Power In A Morning Routine

Rusbridger learns quickly that his daily 20 minutes have to happen in the morning, before the unpredictable demands of work kick in. Here is how he describes his routine:

“I get up half an hour earlier. I fit in ten minutes of yoga listening to the Todayprogramme – not exactly meditative. Then breakfast and the papers with more Today programme all at the same time. Then I slip upstairs to the sitting room to play before driving into work.”

Pursuing Your Passion Is An Investment

Even though his morning piano practice is a solitary activity, he undertakes it knowing that it will have social benefits. After all, when he was a child, his mother told him that playing the piano would help him make friends. She’s right, and he finds her message echoed in the pages of Charles Cooke’s book Playing the Piano for Pleasure: “The better you play, the more your circle of friends will expand. You can count on this as confidently as you can count on the sun rising. Music is a powerful magnet which never fails to attract new, congenial, long-term friends.”

Mortality Is A Good Motivator

When Rusbridger’s former girlfriend gets in touch to tell him that her breast cancer has returned, he finds himself reflecting on mortality, and thinking of other friends more or less his age who are undergoing treatment for various serious diseases. Each brush with illness or mortality strengthens his determination to lean the Ballade. “In terms of getting on with life’s ambitions,” he writes, “I’m hit by more than a tinge of carpe diem.”

“Amateur” Is Not An Insult

Rusbridger has no illusions or intentions about becoming a professional pianist. He’s a dedicated amateur from the start, and his conversations and meetings with other music lovers — both professional and amateur — is a reminder that “amateur” isn’t a value judgment (i.e. worse than a professional), but a worthy end in itself. In fact, it’s probably a good deal more enjoyable and less stressful than being a pro.

In conversation with Rusbridger, the New York Times music critic Michael Kimmelman talks about the perks of being an amateur. “You have another life, it’s a full and interesting life, but you decide to add this life as well because music gives you something that you can’t get from this other life. It isn’t about having a career and making a living from it, it’s about something that only music-making will give you.”

It’s Never Too Late

As he improves and comes closer to learning the entire Ballade, no one is as surprised as Rusbridger himself. “It’s a funny thing to discover about yourself in your mid-50s — that you spent the previous forty years not doing something on the assumption that you couldn’t do it, when all along you could.”

He is astonished to learn, after memorizing complex passages of the Ballade, just how powerful his own memory is. “Back in the summer of 2010 I had no idea of just how capable a 56-year-old brain was of learning new tricks,” he writes. “So it’s heartening to know that, quite well into middle age, the brain is plastic enough to blast open hitherto unused neural pathways and adapt to new and complicated tasks. So, no, it’s not too late.”


May 30 ~ Today in Music History



• 1578 ~ Valentin Dretzel, Composer

• 1746 ~ Giovanni Antonio Pollarolo, Composer, died at the age of 69

• 1778 ~ Voltaire, (François-Marie Arouet), French writer of Candide, died at the age of 42 Candide was later set to music by Leonard Bernstein

• 1791 ~ Ildephons Haas, Composer, died at the age of 56

• 1797 ~ Johann Christian Lobe, Composer

• 1797 ~ Carl Ludwig Junker, Composer, died at the age of 48

• 1794 ~ Ignaz Moschelles, Composer

• 1808 ~ Joaquim Casimiro Jr, Composer

• 1833 ~ Josef Slavik, Composer, died at the age of 27

• 1844 ~ Louis Varney, Composer

• 1853 ~ Karl Fritjof Valentin, Composer

• 1866 ~ Opera “Die Verkaufte Braut” premiered in Prague

• 1870 ~ Gustave Vogt, Composer, died at the age of 89

• 1883 ~ Riccardo Zandonai, Composer

• 1887 ~ Gino Tagliapietra, Composer

• 1906 ~ William Yeates Hurlstone, Composer, died at the age of 30

• 1909 ~ Benny Goodman, American jazz clarinetist, composer and bandleader. He became a leading player with his own bands during the 1930’s and also commissioned works from classical composers including Bartok and Copland.
More information on Goodman

• 1913 ~ Pee Wee (George) Erwin, Trumpet with Tommy Dorsey Band and Isham Jones Band

• 1913 ~ Cedric Thorpe Davie, Composer

• 1920 ~ George London, Baritone singer with Bel canto Trio (with Frances Yeend and Mario Lanza); member: Vienna State Opera, Metropolitan Opera; Artistic Director of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Director: National Opera Institute; head of the Washington Opera and established the George London Foundation for Singers in 1971.

• 1922 ~ ‘Smilin’ Ed McConnell debuted on radio, smiling and playing his banjo. McConnell quickly became a legend in the medium.

• 1923 ~ Howard Hanson’s 1st Symphony “Nordic,” premiered

• 1923 ~ Camille Chevillard, Composer, died at the age of 63

• 1925 ~ Claude Prey, Composer

• 1928 ~ Gustav Leonhardt, Dutch organist and harpsichordist

• 1935 ~ Lothar Windsperger, Composer, died at the age of 49

• 1936 ~ Galina Shostakovitch, daughter of Russian Composer Shostakovitch

• 1940 ~ Olivia Stapp, American soprano

• 1944 ~ Lenny Davidson, Musician with The Dave Clark Five

• 1947 ~ Sidney Hugo Nicholson, Composer, died at the age of 72

• 1952 ~ Zoltan Kocsis, Composer

• 1952 ~ Darius Milhaud’s “West Point Suite,” premiered

• 1954 ~ Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Odisseia de Uma Raca,” premiered

• 1959 ~ Thomas Carl Whitmer, Composer, died at the age of 85

• 1962 ~ Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem,” premiered

• 1962 ~ The King of Swing, Benny Goodman, turned 53 and led the first American jazz band to play in the Soviet Union. Goodman and his band played six concerts in the U.S.S.R.

• 1964 ~ The Beatles 1961 record of Cry for a Shadow was #1 in Australia

• 1964 ~ The Beatles’ Love Me Do, single was #1

• 1968 ~ The Beatles begin work on their only double album “Beatles”

• 1969 ~ Gaston Brenta, Composer, died at the age of 66

• 1971 ~ Marcel Dupré, French organist and composer, died at the age of 85. He was organist of St. Sulpice from 1934 until 1971.

• 1972 ~ Margaret Ruthven Lang, Composer, died at the age of 104

• 1973 ~ Hal Hastings, Orchestra leader for Chevrolet on Broadway, died at the age of 66

• 1975 ~ Wings released “Venus and Mars” album

• 1977 ~ Paul Desmond, American jazz saxophonist, died at the age of 52

• 1980 ~ Carl Radle, bassist with Derek and the Dominoes, died of a kidney ailment

• 1986 ~ Hank Mobley, American jazz saxophonist, died at the age of 55

• 1987 ~ Turk Murphy, Jazz trombonist, died at the age of 71

• 1989 ~ Zinka Milanov, Metropolitan Opera Diva, died at the age of a stroke at 83

• 1992 ~ Paul Simon married Edie Brickell

• 1993 ~ Sun Ra, Blues pianist/orchestra leader, died of a stroke at the age of 79

• 1996 ~ Bob Stroup, trombonist, died at the age of 57

• 1996 ~ John Kahn, bassist, died at the age of 47