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Monday, August 26, 2013

How a World Renowned Concert Pianist Played Piano for Me

Refica Elibay, concert pianist
 Last Saturday night, I had the most improbable experience.  I was sitting on my friend’s porch enjoying the view of the ocean, a glass of wine and the pleasure of visiting with some Mainland sojourners.  This month, I am fortunate enough to be the guest at a former bed and breakfast on Martha’s Vineyard.  It is twelve-bedroom affair with balconies and jaw-dropping views of the Vineyard Sound. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman walking while talking on her cell phone. She seemed to put on her brakes as she drew closer.  Finally, she stopped altogether.  As she crossed the street, I rose to greet her. Over the past four years since the B & B reverted back to private ownership, there have been frequent inquiries from former lodgers hoping to secure a room.  After a standard exchange of greetings, the woman asked if I was the owner. I explained I was a guest of the owner’s, but offered to be of help if I could. She introduced herself, her name rolling off her tongue too fast for me to retrieve it. She went on with her tale. She was a concert pianist who had stayed at this B & B for one week, six summers running when she was performing at the Katherine Cornell Theatre.  The Katherine Cornell Theatre offered her legitimacy, gravitas.  I was cordial and invited her in to see the place.  
She expressed joy to find that there had been few changes to the place that meant so much to her.  And the piano!  A Charles Norris of Boston (circa 1920) baby grand, the piano upon which she had so often practiced, was still in situ.  “Would you like to play?” Her face beamed with joy. Her answer was to simply sit down and, well -- play. She spied my music for Pachelbel’s Canon arrayed on the piano.  “You, you stand here,” she pointed to a spot slightly beside her to her left. “”Better for you to see my hands,” she said. With no more than the initial glance at the music, she launched into her own variation of the Canon. The woman brought a magnificent talent to that one hundred year old keyboard. Something inside of me let go. Tears rolled down my cheeks. 
Her method of instruction, which at first, seemed one of madness, was to play a piece then drill us on what it was, who was the composer?  And who was Lizst’s sister?  Then she would demonstrate an element of technique that would enhance anyone’s playing of the piece. Her didactic approach was engaging and somewhat daunting at times. Who did write Bolero.? And O Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring? From memory, she spilled music.  Her instruction included a thorough explanation of the importance of yin and yang in musical expression. Her one most important lesson was that, “ See, watch. Do you see how I don’t play the music? The music plays me.”
We brought her a glass of wine, and though she preferred red, she agreed to accept the chardonnay.  
Somewhat zany, but completely brilliant, this woman intrigued us. My friends had to take their leave, but not before we all exchanged names and contact information. No emails, she doesn’t do computers.  Finally, I saw her name Refica Elibay.  She played a bit more and then just the two of us settled on the sofa with cheese, crackers and crudites.  Refica regaled me with stories of her life. Born in Turkey, she has studied music since she was seven.  Her mother, a Russian ballerina, and her father, a Turk who specialized in animal husbandry, had three children. They sacrificed mightily in order that Refica and her sister could have the training they needed. Today, both sisters are concert pianists.  Refica lives in New York City, teaches and performs as engagements come up. Her sister is associated with a Berlin orchestra in Germany.  Though they see each other just once a year, there is a bond that exists between them that was forged by history and their love for music.  
Refica was a sensational conversationalist.  The clock seemed to fly from 7:45pm to 10:45pm in a matter of minutes. My yawns could no longer be suppressed. It was past my bedtime. I packed Refica a bag of food to take back to her room in a near-by B & B. Our discussion had run right through the dinner hour without our having noticed the exception.  Restaurants stop serving at ten. Refica was particularly grateful for the brownies that I made that afternoon.
I insisted on taking a few photos of her, and I have a short clip of her playing a song made famous by Judy Garland.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPEpJxo27yc&feature=em-upload_owner#action=share            Refica playing a song popularized by Judy Garland.

Can you name it?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taVYJgrr3JI          Judy Garland singing the song.

Cheers from Refica
The song? I'm Always Chasing Rainbows.

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