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What I learnt from a 109 year old pianist

I was having a bad day, feeling frustrated about the inordinate number of ‘things to do’ on my list that didn’t in any way light me up. And the fact that that list hadn’t reduced in number by the time I got to a day off in which to tackle it. “There’s nothing worse than having to do a whole bunch of tedious things you don’t want to do, on your supposed ‘day off’ from the day job,” I thought to myself. Well, it turns out actually, there are plenty of things that are worse. And I am very lucky that I haven’t experienced the vast majority of them.

Here’s someone who has. A woman who at the age of 39 was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp along with her young son. (She was separated from her husband as he was sent to Dachau and subsequently died of typhus, six weeks before the camp was liberated.) Not only did she survive the concentration camps with an attitude which is utterly remarkable, “I knew that we will play [music] and I was thinking, when we can play, it can’t be so terrible”, but she went on to travel and teach and perform all over the world.

She lived in Israel for nearly 40 years and then moved to London at the age of 86 and promptly got cancer. She was operated on and made a full recovery from it to live a further 24 years. But even this isn’t the most inspiring thing about her.

The facts speak for themselves but when she speaks, her enthusiasm about music, people and life is heart-warmingly infectious. It is her delight in music, her “choice” to “look on the good side” and expect wonderful things, rather than “waiting on the catastrophes” that melted my heart and reminded me to stop wasting time complaining about the domesticity of my life that I’d sooner be without. Focussing on the good things, the miracle of music and the joy in playing Beethoven are just some of  the simple but incredibly powerful lessons I learnt from this concert pianist and inspirational figure. There are people who inspire me through intellect and knowledge, but this woman inspires me through sheer joy and charm. Sometimes, the way back to hope and happiness can really be as simple as ‘choosing’ to see things with a different perspective.

Here are two of my favourite videos about her and her attitudes to life. See what you think:

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