A couple of readers have rather snidely asked why only Chopin is showing up in communications from the beyond, and not other composers. Well, duh. Of course other composers have done the same. In fact, sightings of famous deceased musicians seem to be rather common.
I can’t warrant the following stories as absolutely for sure contacts with dead folks; in fact, in one case, the person who had the experience interprets it as mere imagination. However, each of these Earth-based musicians received critical information at just the right time and was able to make good use of it. One cannot deny the practicality and specificity of the communications, no matter what “really” happened.
My former piano teacher, Jane, told this story about an odd experience she had while at music school. She was preparing for a recital and having a serious technical problem with one of the pieces. She couldn’t solve the problem, despite having applied great effort, and time was getting short. One night Leopold Godowsky came to her in a dream and told her exactly what to do. She knew that was who he was, because he identified himself.
The funny part was that at the time, Jane had never heard of Leopold Godowsky. She had to look him up in books, where she found pictures that looked like the man in her dream. Godowsky, she learned, had been a pianist of such extraordinary ability that Chopin’s études were too easy for him and he felt the need to write extra parts to make them challenging. He was the perfect person to give advice on technique. (For those who don’t know, Chopin’s études are somewhere between hard and impossible for most ordinary mortals.)
Since Godowsky was a well-known figure in the piano world, it’s conceivable that Jane had heard of him at one time, had forgotten, and had reconstructed him in her time of need, but she felt certain that this was not the case. For the record, I hadn’t heard of him either at the time she told me the story, even though I had a better-than-average education in music history. So let’s accept this anecdote at face value for the moment. Then we must ask, why had Godowsky come to her? How did he find her, and how did he know that she needed help?
I can think of two explanations. One is that Jane had some kind of personal connection with Godowsky, even though she didn’t know about it consciously, and thus he heard her distress call. The other is that somehow the musicians of the past are monitoring the musicians of the present, finding opportunities to communicate and give guidance wherever they can. I think that is the more likely option, but it is unnerving in a way, at the same time that it is comforting.
At any rate, Godowsky’s advice did the trick, and Jane performed the piece successfully.
Another pianist-composer I know personally has always felt a special attraction to Beethoven. A few years ago, she had a bizarre experience that involved a vision of him. She got into her car, and happened to glance over at the passenger seat, where she was shocked to see the image of Beethoven, just as if he were a solid human being sitting there. He asked her a very odd question: “How do you get the perfect cut of meat?” Naturally, she had no answer. Beethoven continued, “You trim away all the fat.” My friend took this as advice about how to compose more effectively, and says that it has been a great help. However, she also insists that the vision was nothing more than her extremely vivid imagination.
In 2008, she e-mailed the following to me: “I’ve been composing up a storm, as I’m going to try to make a solo piano CD of all my own original pieces. I’ve had the last week to myself… uninterrupted. No students etc. Doing this for myself each month. So on the third day of non-stop composing, I looked over to my right and… there he was. Said to call him Lou. My overactive imagination right. It’s not like an actual visual thing, which admittedly, I’ve had my share of true visions… but that’s for another time. These are more like perceptions, but they are very distinct. These happen regularly. Anyhow, it was indeed him. Old gruffy Ludwig himself! Am I getting too tired? I’ve been composing for 6 hours straight by now. He’s looking over my music, and nods approvingly. He likes quite a bit of it, but pulls me back to this one passage and says he doesn’t like it!! Why?? This was one of my favorites!! So I proceed to have a discussion with him over it. I even argue my point and dismiss this encounter for my crazy tired imagination! Later, I go back however and try to figure out what he was talking about. Finally, I think it may have been a rhythmic thing in the melody, but I’m still too stubborn to change it. Plus he’s too old fashioned to really get today’s more modern music right?
“So I was in the [local sheet music store] today, and while I was waiting for them to add everything up which takes three days!… I happened to look up to see a statue of Beethoven, and there he was in my head again. He tells me to go look at some of his music to see his point! LO AND BEHOLD! I’ll be damned. I’d never noticed it before. Indeed this particular practice now makes so much sense!! Not only in Beethoven’s work but others! It’s like I had a free lesson! I don’t suppose I can really go wrong with that kind of influence, now can I?”
This composer gave me permission to share her anecdote as long as I did not identify her. When I asked her if she’s had any more “Lou” experiences, though, she again insisted that it was all her imagination. It sounds like a bit more than imagination at work to me, but what do I know.
There is ample precedent for my friend’s Beethoven contacts. The British pianist John Lill not only has seen him, but claims a long-term relationship with the composer. I have not been able to find out many details about what he perceives, but at any rate this is not a secret; Lill has spoken openly about it, and an incident is recounted in Rosemary Brown’s Unfinished Symphonies in which Lill stood up at one of her appearances and said that he believed in her experiences because he had had similar experiences himself. According to Lill, Beethoven assured him that he would win the Tchaikovsky competition in 1970 (which he did), and provided emotional and technical support during that time. Beyond that, I know little except that Lill is well established as an interpreter of Beethoven, and has claimed to get help with interpretation from the composer. Apparently Lill does not typically give a great deal of information about his experiences in public– at least I haven’t been able to find much– and tries to avoid being thought of as a “quaint loony,” as he told one interviewer.
My own impressions of “Lou” will have to wait for another post.