Games people play

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The Independent Online
Marguerite Wolff, concert pianist.

My brother tells people that I play all day, which is of course irrefutable. As a concert pianist, one works enormously hard and practises many hours.

My athletic life has always been very limited. I longed to be an elegant tennis player, but of course tennis is tremendously bad for the arm muscles, and skiing is impossible because you can't afford to break anything; it's never the same again, however well it mends. It can make all the difference in the world if you have a break. I think Somerset Maugham wrote a story about somebody who wanted to be a concert pianist. But they lost the tip of their little finger - just the very tip - which made everything impossible.

I had to play tremendously safe with a lot of physical things. I was allowed a rather genteel game of netball, or a little bit of rounders, and that was it. Part of a game after all is the risk you take, isn't it?

If you start playing very young, there's no question about it, you can get wonderful rewards. At times with an orchestra, you can go as near to heaven as you can on this earth, but against that, you give up a tremendous amount of lovely, ordinary things.

I remember as a child preparing to play a concert. I was about 15, and I'd just been to my piano teacher, who was quite a tyrannical sort of person. It was a hot day and as I stood waiting at the number 31 bus stop, I remember seeing some girls just sauntering along with their tennis rackets. They were obviously having a lovely time without any particular responsibilities or cares, which made me very wistful.

I still feel it quite strongly at the number 31 bus stop at Kilburn Bridge.

Marguerite Wolff's biography, "The Adventures of a Concert Pianist" is out of print, but determined individuals can follow her progress in Brazil en route to Miami for her 1998 concert series with the National Symphony Orchestra.

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