I don’t remember when I fell in love with Frederic Chopin. I’m not sure when I first heard Clair De Lune or Debussy’s Beau Soir, but both still give me goose bumps. I know I hated playing piano as a child, so where did the love come from? What formed the fixation? Was it my mother, playing the ancient piano in our downstairs family room? The piano player at our church growing up? Maybe. I wish I could remember, because at least I would have someone to thank.
A couple weeks ago, I accepted a story assignment from the City Paper—a feature article on 15-year-old pianist and Charleston native Micah McLaurin. In the words of my editor, “What’s his deal?” I contacted the McLaurin family, and I delved into “his deal.” I did an interview, and you can read the full story HERE. One of the perks of writing the interview? I got free tickets to see Micah LIVE, and this happened last night at the Sottile Theater on George Street.
The Sottile Theater is located in downtown Charleston. It is an attractive building, beautiful in its simplicity, and as I learned from Micah’s father, it used to be a movie theater. At present, it hosts College of Charleston and community events, ranging in theater to music to dance. For the International Piano Series, the stage is adorned with a piano, white barriers to aid in acoustics and volume, and…a performer. The performer last night was fifteen, and well, I know I did the interview, but well, I forgot how YOUNG fifteen is. Micah, decked out in a nice black suit and tie, was just a kid, but watching him play, it was easy to forget.
Honestly, he looked awkward walking onto the stage. He took long, meditative pauses before each piece, and in free moments, he wiped sweaty palms against the sides of his pants. I liked the opening arrangement—French Suite No. 5 in G Major—by Bach. It was okay. It was jubilant. It was…Bach. He followed this with Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, and I was done for. Part of Micah’s self-proclaimed mission as a pianist is to make audiences cry. Micah, mission accomplished. He went on to play a neurotic piece by Prokofiev, followed by a choppy Haydn sonata, and closing with an emotional rollercoaster by Rachmaninoff. He even did an encore. I was sitting beside his first piano teacher, and she told me the encore had to be Rachmaninoff, too, since Micah only moves his body onstage when playing good old Mr. R.
Micah did an exceptional job. He is a talented young man who has many years to hone his craft. Watching him, he not only knows every note, but he feels every note. You could see it, in the slight Forrest Gump head tilt; in the focus of his face toward the keys and away from the audience; and in the way his fingers caressed and attacked and tickled that ivory, until the piano seemed to speak for each long-dead composer on Micah’s set list.
Although I loved the entire presentation, I cannot forget the feel of the Chopin ballade. What is it with me and piano? I like the way pianists (Micah included) develop Fuzzy Hand Syndrome, when their hands move so fast, they blur. I like the way the music feels on my ears. I like the feeling so much, I’ve been known to crank etudes and nocturnes until neighbors call the cops. Somehow, to me, piano feels soft. It feels warm. It makes my heart want to explode, but I take comfort in my auditory gluttony. It is nice to know that always, no matter what catastrophes descend, there is always a place to go for reassurance. There will always be warmth, safety, and goodness, as long as musicians like Micah keep the faith and keep on making audiences cry. Bravo, young sir. Bravo.