“With a Song in My Heart”: Franz Schubert, Ella Fitzgerald and … Belinda

Franz Schubert wrote songs … hundreds of them. Ella Fitgerald sang ’em. And Belinda? Well, she is a song. For the longest time, when I’ve thought of Belinda, it’s been, as Rogers and Hart wrote in 1929, and Ella Fitzgerald sang, nearly 30 years later, “With a Song in My Heart!”

I’d guess that a lot of folks might have thought of Belinda and myself as competitors. When a piano competition was held in our State, there was a pretty fair chance that one or the other of us would win it. I’d have to really work to remember which of us won any given competition. But it’s no work at all to recall the beautiful music that Belinda played on the piano. Or to bring back to my mind her shy smile, which was always as wonderful a presence as the music she played. We were little kids when we first met, and both of us were far too shy to do anything quite as outrageous as, say, talk with one another. Her teacher, back then, was Manuela Pagano, who is regarded as one of the world’s very best piano teachers. As Belinda got a bit older, she began to be taught by Manuela’s husband, Caio Pagano, who I think most would agree is the greatest pianist ever to emerge from Brazil (and that’s saying a lot)! My teacher at the time was part of Caio and Manuela’s studio, so we kids did a lot of listening to one another playing the piano. During those early years, Belinda was the young pianist I most looked up to who was my own age. (I also looked up to Jian Liu, and to Wei Xing, of course, but they were practically “old folks” back then. I mean … Wei was already in high school, and Jian had started into college!) It’s been a while since I’ve heard Belinda play … she still studies with Caio … and I’m really looking forward to the next opportunity to listen to her!

The Mom of one of our music-playing friends commented, once, that, “The problem is that kids spend too much time playing music against one another, instead of with one another!” She’s got a point. Too many competitions, too few duets and trios… But of course it can be scary to play music together! Quite a few of my piano-playing friends have, from time to time, expressed a fear about accompanying people on the piano, that if you make a mistake, it might distract the other person, and make them make a mistake. (And that would be a bad thing, right?!) Well, Belinda and I only played music together once … we performed a bit of Schubert, a duet, when we were 12 years old … and, if she made any mistakes (I’m not saying she did, and I’m not saying she didn’t <grin>), there’s no way in the world that it would even have begun to distract me. Of course, that would have been because my attention was already 100% occupied … by the “beautiful music” that Belinda, herself, is … as well as by the beautiful music she plays!

When it comes down to it, I don’t think that music, at its best, is about playing in a note-perfect manner, or in any other “mistake-free” way. It’s about playing the way Belinda does, from the depths of herself, and with all her heart and soul and might. When someone is playing like that, it doesn’t matter whether we’re playing with them or listening to them. It’s like the thought Ella expressed when she sang “With a Song in My Heart”: “Can [we] help but rejoice that a song such as [hers] came to be?!”

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