Guest post by Georgina Imberger
My German teacher at school came from Prague. Frau, we called her. I shrink a little now, on first instinct, when I think that we did that. On second instinct, I think that she probably liked it. It was a simplistic, naïve affectation and we were predictably naughty little people whose views were yet to expand. I like to think that she had a rueful smile for our cheek. Frau was different from anyone else I had met, and I thought that she and her world were fascinating. I can’t remember any of the words she used to talk about Prague, but I do remember, and still have, the picture of Frau’s Europe that ended up in my teenage head.
In a scene that well dates me to a pre-millennial high school education, we spent much of German class listening to audiotapes. The content on those things was appalling, boring and irrelevant to us, and we had no grace in tolerating it. But the tapes had a piano soundtrack, and while we were raucous, Frau would lose herself a little and sail away in the musical bridges. In those moments, I fancied I saw something that was more real than our suburban lives and more interesting than I yet understood. These memories are where I place the birth of my own love of a sideways turn and where I learnt that a true human story often plays slightly below the script.
Many years later, I finally went to Prague. I was well into my thirties by then, my life was still messy at every turn and my questions spilling out in disruptive mayhem. I went to Frau’s city hoping to meet the Europe that she had packaged for me. I walked the rambling outer suburbs for days, loving every minute. I scoffed at the tourism-gone-mad. I found gigs in dodgy venues, jumping train tracks and drinking booze too cheap to be decent. And on the word of a Czech friend made on one such night, I found myself with a ticket to a local piano recital.
As with most experiences in that chapter of my life, I was slightly hungover and a little wrought when I went. As the audience started coming in, however, my mind sharpened. We were in a community building, in a northern suburb of Prague, beautiful in its scale and simple in its set-up. There was a chunky great grand in the front and mis-matched chairs. Here it was, Frau’s Prague. And it was filling with warm, searching faces. In an instant, it all felt like an over-due pause in my busy, busy conversation and I sensed a million noisy questions being quietly answered. The young man who came out to play that piano had a smile that knew thirteen-year-old-me. His hair was out of control and his hands were everywhere, even before they hit the keys. It was Rachmaninoff that he started with, the Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2. And it was unspeakably beautiful. I had never before, and never since, been in the presence of hands and space that could shift the landscape like they did that night.
So here is my Rachmaninoff Dreaming. A tribute to the stories told with 88 keys that drift us away and tell truths like no words can. And a toast to Frau, who had the wisdom to let us see her dream.
Georgina Imberger runs Piano Project, a Melbourne-based venture that sponsors piano lessons for children who are new immigrants to Australia. There is a fundraising concert at the Meat Market in North Melbourne on May 29 at 5.30pm, presenting the New Palm Court Orchestra, lead by pianist/composer Gemma Turvey and featuring flugelhornist Gianni Marinucci. Tickets are $20 and proceeds go to lessons for the kids. Details and tickets are on the website – www.pianoproject.org.au