Listening to Anne Silverman play piano is a transformative experience.
I recently visited with Anne at her home on Waverley Street where she teaches piano to children and adults. Before we began to talk, I requested that she play a piece of music, anything at all. The piece she selected sounded both familiar and new; I immediately began to relax. I watched and listened in amazement as her hands glided across the keys and it was all I could do not to stretch out on her couch while the notes she so effortlessly created caressed and soothed something deep inside.
I’ve known Annie for several years both through art group and book group and via the transitive law of friends. Over the years, I’d been fortunate in occasionally hearing Annie play, but I only recently got the chance to learn how and why she became an accomplished musician.
Annie explained that she came from a family who emphasized the appreciation of music. Her parents frequently attended classical music concerts and “name that classical music tune” was a game the family engaged in on car trips. She began taking piano lessons at age six and studied with the same teacher for the next 12 years.
Annie smiled remembering her years as a piano student.
“My teacher played beautifully. I know I was a huge source of frustration for her because I liked to play by ear. She was insistent that I read the music, then play it. That’s the traditional way to teach piano, but it doesn’t work for all kids.”
Although her parents wanted her to attend a conservatory to major in music and become a classical concert pianist, Annie had other ideas.
“Oh, sure, I studied classical music at Smith and then composition at Mt. Holyoke and Amherst College, but I knew the concert pianist life was not for me. My interests have always been broad. I love to improvise, to play the blues, jazz, ragtime, pop, and show tunes.”
The creative path Annie ended up following has reflected her broad musical interests. She wrote five original musicals for a children’s theater on Martha’s Vineyard, she performed jazz, pop, and show tunes for several years while living on a boat in St. John, she played and traveled with Shawna Carrol, and what has really made Annie’s heart sing over the years is playing for dancers and dance companies (ballet and modern dance).
Teaching piano has also been a source of satisfaction for her.
“Having studied piano for 12 years, I knew I would eventually try my hand at teaching. My own experience taught me that children learn differently and there is not one way to approach teaching. I’ve been teaching children at their homes, or they’ve been coming here, since 1997.”
Unlike the lessons of her childhood, Annie encourages her students to improvise, to make up their own songs, to play what they love.
“Kids bring different personalities to the table. I get a sense of their individual temperaments and then adjust the teaching method to them.
Annie explained that the lessons have to be meaningful for the kids, or they won’t put their hearts into it. “It’s my job to let them find the music that speaks to their souls. And for the kids that are more linear and want to proceed from page 1 to page 50 of a traditional music book, that’s fine too.”
Annie teaches music theory, pitch, ear training, and rhythm.
“I use the traditional pieces to teach good technique and I’ll use something modern, like Coldplay, to get the kids excited.”
Toward the end of our time together, I asked Annie to put into words what music has meant for her, over her lifetime.
“Music is an emotional anchor. It keeps me centered and grounded. When I am playing music, I am not thinking about anything else. The focus is so pure, so completely in the moment. Something in my brain chemistry shifts and I just escape. Almost every time I play, I land in that zone. Music is as much a part of me as a limb.”
“Playing music,” she added, “is like dancing with a really good partner or like eating a delicious feast. Some music is tangy, like Spanish dance, and some music is sour and dissonant. Debussy is sweet, Beethoven is a structured seven-layer cake, Gershwin is such an American blend – he’s a coffee frappe! And Fats Waller, a definite favorite, he’s like champagne, all bubbly and bright.”
Spending this time with Annie made me want to sign up for piano lessons right then and there. Learning from her would be wonderful, but writing about her is also a joy.