A Piano Prodigy Re-Learns A Long-Honed Skill (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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A Piano Prodigy Re-Learns A Long-Honed Skill

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Right around the time Mary Z. Gray was writing for the Washington Post, the woman we'll meet next was playing music all over the world. Ruth Antine began taking piano lessons when she was 7-years-old. And she's hardly missed a day for 92 years. Emily Friedman brings us this story on Antine's days as a world class concert pianist and how she keeps up her skills after nearly a century.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

00:00:26
Ruth Antine wakes up around 3 in the morning. She gets dressed, hooks her music bag on her walker and heads downstairs. There's a room in her retirement home that has a TV, some chairs and a piano, and, by no later than 5 a.m., she's sitting at the piano, ready to begin.

MS. RUTH ANTINE

00:00:47
Here's some of my audience. Shall we wait till they come in?

FRIEDMAN

00:00:54
Three more residents stream into the room. Breakfast just finished, so this is when the concert usually begins.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ONE

00:01:00
Hello.

ANTINE

00:01:01
Welcome, welcome. And they all have their favorite pieces, see? That's when you know. I started -- I was a little over seven. I remember the exact day. And, before I knew it, I was giving concerts to -- everybody knew that I played the piano, and they asked me to play. I'd play. That's all. I don't remember even being nervous about it.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:37
Antine was a child prodigy. She didn't do regular kid things, like play in the street in her Brooklyn neighborhood or go grocery shopping with her mother because she was always practicing.

ANTINE

00:01:50
Somebody wanted me to go on tour, and my teacher said, she should not do that. It won't be, in the long run, good for her to show off because it shouldn't make a big thing of being young 'cause the idea is to know how to play well.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:09
Instead of touring, she stayed in school and performed all over New York City. By her 20s, she was one of the first women to receive a master's in conducting from Yale. She helped write books on music theory, created a program for music therapy and, all the while, performed hundreds of performances, thousands of songs.

ANTINE

00:02:30
I don't know how many, many, many things I played, almost anything that anybody would want.

MS. ELYSE VINITSKY

00:02:47
My name is Elyse Vinitsky, and I have an incredibly special aunt, Ruth Vinitsky Antine. Aunt Ruth, do you remember anything about the accident?

ANTINE

00:02:54
No. I don't. See, I've -- I just know I forgot everything.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:59
Two years ago, Antine had a stroke that wiped out almost all of her repertoire. There were piles and piles of sheet music in her mind, and the notes had somehow slid off the page.

ANTINE

00:03:11
Even now, I just learned an early sonata of Beethoven, "(unintelligible)." Can't get this part, haven't got that part. I have to practice, practice, practice.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:23
She had had a stroke before, 30 years ago, after which she was told she'd never play piano again, but she did. Now, two years after her more recent stroke, she's relearned more than two hours of music. In some ways, she says, she's better than she ever was.

ANTINE

00:03:39
Every time I play, it's a real experience to me. And I think that that somehow, that communicates.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:48
She performs a concert every morning for anyone who wants to listen. It's an older crowd, she says, and though she introduces each song with a story and a little banter, it's pretty common to see people nodding off.

ANTINE

00:04:00
And sometimes they'll applaud me, and then, afterward, they will fall asleep. I told them if they don't fall asleep, they get their money back. So that really means that it's okay to fall asleep.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:15
Ruth's niece, Elyse, says, after the stroke, Aunt Ruth doesn't get all the notes right. But, she says, that's not really what it's all about.

ELYSE VINITSKY

00:04:23
Do you remember the story about Leopold Godowsky? A woman came up to Leopold Godowsky after a concert and said, how can you play the piano with such small hands?

ANTINE

00:04:37
And he said, what makes you think we play with our hands?

FRIEDMAN

00:04:43
Ruth says, even after 92 years playing, there's always something to learn, something to practice. And if you're lucky, there's always someone to hear you play. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

00:05:00
For photos of Ruth Antine at the piano, head to our website, metroconnection.org. After the break, how a professional dancer brought her career back from the brink.

MS. ALICIA GRAF MACK

00:05:19
For me, dance is such a part of me. Just like when people get up and brush their teeth in the morning, I get up, and I'm a dancer. That's what I do. And for as long as I live, that's gonna be who I am.

SHEIR

00:05:31
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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