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A Piano Prodigy Re-Learns A Long-Honed Skill

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A 99-year-old piano prodigy shares her story of her days as a world class concert pianist.
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A 99-year-old piano prodigy shares her story of her days as a world class concert pianist.

Ruth Antine wakes up around 3 a.m. She gets dressed, hooks her music bag on her walker, and heads downstairs in her Bethesda retirement home. 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.

A few residents stream into the room as the morning goes on. As breakfast ends, the concert is usually just beginning.

The life of a musical prodigy

Antine began piano lessons when she was 7 years old, and has hardly missed a day since. Now, even after 92 years practicing, she says it still takes discipline to play well.

"I was a little over 7," she says. "I remember the exact day. Before I knew it I was giving concerts. I don't remember even being nervous about it, but I thought everybody was bored! I just looked, everybody sitting there so quiet, and they just look so bored!

Antine was a child prodigy. Though was shielded from touring for most of her youth, 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.

"Somebody wanted me to go on tour," she says. "And my teacher said 'she should not do that. It won't be good in the long run to go on tour now [and] show off.'"

Antine recalls her teacher telling her not to make a big thing of being young, since the real ideal is to play well, regardless of age.

Instead of touring, she stayed in school and by her 20s, she was studying conducting with Nicholai Malko, and was one of the first women to earn a Masters in Music at Yale, under Paul Hindemith.

Throughout her studies, she performed concerts. Her repertoire, Antine says, included "almost anything that anybody would want."

In 2010, Antine had a stroke that wiped out almost all of those hundreds of songs. Now, two years after her more recent stroke, she's relearned more than two hours of music. She plays every morning, and says, in some ways, she says, she's better than she ever was.

"Every time I play, it's a real experience to me," she says, "and it should be to others as well. And I think somehow, that communicates."

[Music: "Berceuse, Op. 57 in D" by Ruth Vinitsky Antine from A Chopin Program]

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