Alan Rusbridger came into my life, as so many people do, because of a book he wrote, Play It Again. In 2013, the book’s publication date, I was aware of the Guardian and Mr. Rusbridger’s role as its editor. But it wasn’t Rusbridger’s day job that captured my imagination. It was the fact that in spite of 24-hour news cycle days, frequent international travel, family, and a lively circle of friends, Rusbridger heeded the call of what he characterized as his creative DNA.
In yielding to the gravitational pull of music, the piano in particular, Rusbridger set himself a daunting goal. Though an accomplished amateur pianist (and clarinetist), Rusbridger decided to climb the Mount Everest of piano literature; to learn Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G Minor in a single year.
And it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of year. Sandwiched between the WikiLeaks news story and the News of the World hacking scandal Rusbridger described the period on his website as, “A defining year in the life of the Guardian and its editor, and one of the most memorable in the history of British journalism.”
This was the landscape in which Rusbridger tried to carve out 20 minutes of daily practice while he searched for, “The right teacher, the right piano, and the right fingering.”
In Play It Again, Rusbridger sought advice from some of the world’s most accomplished concert pianists, Murray Perahia, Emanuel Ax, Daniel Barenboim, and others who shared their insights on music in general and the immense difficulty of playing the ballade in particular. It may have been their professional assessment of the ballade’s terrifying complexity that prompted the book’s subtitle, An Amateur Against the Impossible.
This memoir of an extraordinary year includes conversations with music theorists, a neurologist on music and its effect on the brain, and a group of passionate amateur pianists on why music matters.
You’ll have to read the book to find out if Rusbridger was able to master the ballade in time for his public recital. Or you can listen to the Conversations podcast if I am lucky enough to have Mr. Rusbridger as a guest on the show.
QUESTIONS I WANT TO ASK ALAN RUSBRIDGER
1. How did you pull it off? Are you a time lord who conjured up extra hours, hop-skipping from one dimension to another?
2. What motivated and sustained you on this seemingly impossible quest?
3. In what ways did this musical journey change your life?
4. What impossible thing is he currently working on?
5. Why 20-minutes a day?
6. What practical advice can he give the rest of us to help us act on our own creative quests?
The back-flap copy on the book entices the reader with the question, “What will you do with your 20-minutes a day?” My answer was to get to work on a podcast that I’ve been thinking about and wanting to do for years. What will you do with your 20-minutes? I’d love to know.