Dublin Piano Group Brings a Social Note to What Can Be a Lonely Instrument

“I have had a bad relationship with audiences,” says Daire O’Shea, to the room of piano players.

“Playing at home shows 100 percent of my ability. Playing in front of other people subtracts 10 or 30,” he says.

As he tinkles through one of Gabriel Fauré’s “Nocturnes in E Flat Major”, he mouths along to the notes.

Building confidence to perform is part of what the Dublin Piano Group is about, said founder Maki Mutai, last Friday.

“I believe that music should be played in front of other people,” she said.

Every two months, the group meets in the nave of the Methodist Centenary Church in leafy Leeson Park in Ranelagh, to perform for others, one by one usually, but four by one sometimes, for around two hours.

Playing Together

Some players come from as far as Fingal and Ashtown. Two on Friday were newbies: O’Shea and Miguel Arevalo. They spotted posters Mutai had put up.

“You usually see meetups advertised online,” Arevalo says. That it was traditional, on paper, made him curious.

He’s attracted to the social side of it, he says.

Everybody knows the piano. “So we share something. That’s the thing I’m looking forward to the most,” said Arevalo.

“The piano can be quite lonely,” says Tina Caslin, who’s in the final stages of piano training at DIT’s Conservatory of Music and Drama.

She met her duet partner, Adrienne Czerwin-Abbott, on the course.

They share a stool as they play the frenetic Russian folk song, “Two Guitars”, and later, a Brahms “Hungarian Dance”.

“It’s strange having someone with you because the piano is such a solo instrument,” Czerwin-Abbott says.

“Some people might find it difficult, but I don’t think we did,” says Caslin.

Later, they multiply efforts further – performing a cheerful eight-hand rendition of “Champagne Toccata” with Anne Orr and Jelena Vasic.

“Like champagne, [the song] gives you a bubbly feeling,” says Czerwin-Abbott.

Keeping It Going

Gathering the Dublin Piano Group together once every two months gives people time to learn their pieces, says Mutai, the organiser.

Those who come pay €10 to cover the room hire. Any leftover funds help cover the next session, she says.

Mutai says she hopes to build up enough to offer a free day in the future. Making playing piano affordable is on her mind. Mutai also runs a Japanese theatre group, Mad Moon Theatre.

“For my next project I’m hoping to organise piano learning for children who would not be able to afford piano classes,” she says.

Mutai can’t perform tonight as she’s injured her hand. But she’s still running the meetups.

She played piano through her childhood, she says, but stopped as a teenager. Eight years ago, she took it up again.

“I get really nervous. I wanted to get used to playing music in front of people,” she says.

A Way Back

Aravelo hadn’t played for decades, he says. Three years back, he started again.

“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen after 20 years. So I bought a cheap keyboard,” says Aravelo, who had reached grade seven in the past. Most sets of music exams go up to eight grades.

Aravelo performs the jaunty “Promenade op. 25” by Amy Beach, which begins, as it ends, with dramatic trumpet-like fanfare. The other club members, sat in chairs facing the altar, murmur with approval.

“My dream was to be a pianist,” says Kotoha Itakura, as she takes her place on the stool. She works at the Japanese Embassy in Dublin. “But that was 20 years ago and now I do completely different things. I’m a novice again.”

In his case, Arevalo says he hasn’t forgotten everything. “Those skills never go away. Of course, you don’t have the coordination, you don’t have the speed, but if you have some background […] then it’s easy.”

As Bernie Guinan feels her way through the first and second movements of Beethoven’s “Sonatina in G Major”, she stops and starts.

Her fingers are shaking, she says. It’s “performance anxiety”, she tells the others.

Earlier, she’d played for a smaller group, for four or five early arrivals. “I played it perfectly,” she says. “I need to overcome that.”

Guinan is newer to the instrument. She played classical guitar as a child but had hankered to learn piano, and took it up four years ago.

“When I got to a certain age I thought I’ll just do it now because otherwise, I won’t do it,” she says. “We have to learn new things, you know?”

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Aura McMenamin: Aura McMenamin is a city reporter.

Reader responses

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at 12 June 2019 at 10:32

Great idea, how do you join?

Lois Kapila
at 12 June 2019 at 11:50

Hey Katherine! You can reach them at [email protected]

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