It was concert pianist Marian Grudeff who put Toronto-based piano teacher Susan Richardson on a path towards making music a major part of her emotional life.
“Marian was an amazing woman,” says Richardson, who holds the Associate of The Royal Conservatory of Toronto in Piano Performance. “She believed that one needed music to bring emotional balance and peace to their life. She gave me a tool chest at the keyboard.”
Through this “tool chest,” Richardson has been able to find solace and refuge during the most difficult times in her life.
“There are challenging emotions in life,” she says. “Maybe you are feeling depressed or anxious. Maybe solace is elusive to you. Whatever you are feeling, whatever you are feeling, music gives you a non-verbal realm to experience emotional energy. When playing or listening to a piece that mirrors how you feel, there is also the possibility of a shift or a resolution of that energy. The great composers were masters of this through key changes and chord resolutions, which ultimately affect the architecture of the brain and create an incredible sense of order and balance.”
Sounds amazing. But what if you don’t have musical talent?
“Everyone is musical,” says Richardson, who also teaches yoga. “Look around you. Music is everywhere, in every culture. There is drumming and chanting. Watch any small child when music is played. They naturally move their bodies. Music is in everyone of us. William Westney (the author of The Perfect Wrong Note)” says,’Humans are musical beings: to make music is our magical birthright and an important component of who we are and what brings us together.'”
Whether or not you think you can play piano, or sing, doesn’t matter, says Richardson, who suggests reading, “The Perfect Wrong Note,” by William Westney. Westney, a pianist and educator, believes that playing the wrong note is not a bad thing. In fact,mistakes are the gateway to learning.”They are truthful and pure,” agrees Richardson. “Showing us, with immediate, elegant clarity, where we are right now and what we need to do next.”
“If you allow yourself to be open to music, the melodies and harmonies,” says Richardson, you will find it inside you as a different experience of listening, rather than thinking.” And maybe also some peace and calm along the way.
However you choose to explore the benefits of adding harmony and rhythm to your life, whether it be playing simple, random melodies on a piano, or another instrument, or simply listening to a composition, the experience sounds too good to miss.
“Sometimes it is the simpler pieces that are most touching,” says Richardson. “At any level you can find expression. For me, no matter what I play, as long as I am playing, and I am emotionally present, it makes me feel like everything is going to be ok.”
Susan’s emotional playlist
Looking for that perfect piece to match or soothe your mood? Susan writes about some of her top choices:
Anxiety: Schumann Intermezzo from Faschingswank Aus Vien
I love this piece with its incessant rhythm and dissonant notes. Schumann was bi-polar and prone to depression and suicidal tendencies. This piece fascinates me in that it is equally tortured feeling and at the same time transcendently beautiful.
Anger: Mozart Sonata in A minor
Some would doubt that Mozart’s music could ever express anger as it is mostly associated with balance, elegance and symmetry. However I feel an emotional intensity exists in this piece, that for me allows me to work with the quality and vibration of anger. Mozart wrote this piece after his mother died. Some scholars doubt there is a link, but he delves into depths in this sonata beyond many of his others.
Sadness: Beethoven Op 110 3rd Movement
No words could express what Beethoven says here in sound. Isador Duncan said “If I could say it, I wouldn’t have to dance it”. Beethoven wrote this at the end of his life when he was completely deaf. Need I say more? After the intensity of the first three minutes the movement shifts into an experience of joy and positivity and one feels that they can overcome all odds.
Stress: Bach Fugue No 4 in C# minor
I feel the fugue, which begins at 3:14, is a mediation on staying calm as things build in intensity. The slow pensive rhythm gradually unfolds and becomes more lively and intricate. The message for me is that we can endure anything as life unfolds and inevitable challenges arise.
Joy: Bach Prelude and Fugue No 3 in C# Major