Piano Four Hands

My grandmother taught me at the age of three to play recorder, and at four the piano. She was a rather strict grandmother, not the one that a child might hope for. Mostly I had nightmares about her. I was only allowed to watch documentaries and a strict schedule of work/piano rehearsal and short breaks for fun. We played a lot of 4 hand piano. Really, I didn’t know much about her at all. But my grandmother had not only lost her husband in WW2, she also lost her only son. Maybe some of this loss created a wish to make sure I live by strict rules so that nothing would harm me.

I was a teenager when my grandmother fell and hit her head so hard that she fell into a state in which she only would recognize us occasionally when we visited. But she always smiled when I played piano for her. It was only then that my mother and I had the feeling she was able to recognize us.

The day my grandmother died, I felt compelled to say sorry for whatever harsh or bad thoughts I had against her. I did and we made peace and soon she flew away to my grandfather and her son.

After her death I started asking questions about her, realizing that so much of what she was is inside me. She gave me the gift of music and listening. I started digging further into our family story. My grandmother had written not only a memoir of her own journey but she had also written down the life stories of her 4 children.

Having this rare situation that there is a voice from my dead grandmother through her writings, I asked my mother if she could type up the memories of my grandmother. Then I would ask her to insert her own thoughts in response to what my grandmother had said and if she saw it similarly or disagreed with my grandmother.

After several months of work, I received a big book, perfectly bound, titled “von der Nahmer – family story of 4 generations”. My heart was pumping very hard as I was aware that I held a family treasure in my hands. Not money, but what is much more important for me: knowledge. Knowledge about my grandmother who I was never able to ask about these things when I was ready for it, knowledge about how my mother was when she was young but also how her mother had seen her, and what she felt about her. When I opened the first page, reading the words of my grandmother, there she was alive and happy again, before her losses. It’s a moment that I can’t put in words. But her story wasn’t just facts: the amazing thing was her ability to create drama within each page. Like all great dramatists, there was always an element of the unknown, of what would happen next. Once she came to the birth of my mother, my mother’s words joined the story and they started to have a dialogue through time. Finishing each other’s thoughts, agreeing and disagreeing with each other as if I would have both of them in the same room and we would all talk about our family history.

As I became part of the story, I started to ask questions as well. One day I will conclude and add my thoughts about my life, helping my children to understand where they come from and hopefully helping them to understand more about themselves through where they come from.

It took half of my life to recognize what I believe is my purpose, and that it is a rather simple one: asking questions. Questions that others might not ask because they can’t, don’t want to or don’t dare. But I also ask questions to connect people. I ask questions to learn about others, and through that learn more about the human being and the human condition in a broader sense. I am driven by gaining knowledge through hearing stories and connecting with people about their own stories. This interest in people and stories, given to me through the gift of my grandmother’s story, is what has created the groundwork for me to go into the world and learn more about all the grandfathers and grandmothers through their stories. I transform those stories into theatrical pieces so that other people might also enjoy the glimpse into their lives but on a deeper level learn from their experiences of love, purpose, and struggle. Musical theater made up of true voices of the past teaching us that in the end, it’s all a never ending circle. Young becomes old and the old might, when we give them a space and time, GROW YOUNG again.

Growing Young is dedicated to my Grandmother Frieda von der Nahmer who gave me everything I needed to become the person I am today but never got the chance to see the fruits of her work.