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Inspired by Chopin and Paris

Steve Charles—Last week I celebrated Frederic Chopin’s birthday, a first for me.

Didn’t really celebrate, I guess. Just yelled out “Happy Chopin’s Birthday” to Tian Tian ’11, who is the only reason I realized that March 1, 2010 was the 200th anniversary of the great composer and pianist’s birth.

Tian’11 had dropped by my office in January, his first visit since returning from his semester in Paris. (Tian was featured in “Snapshot from an American Dream,” WM Fall 09, where we focused on his internship at the Children’s Museum and his serendipitous summer stay with Bob Wright ’87 and his family (pictured here, looking on as Tian plays the piano in their home).

He returned from France inspired.

That’s the way he described the way he felt when he walked along the Seine River on All Saints Day, November 1, visiting the grave of his musical hero Frederic Chopin.

“The French take All Saints Day very seriously,” Tian told me “Chopin’s grave was practically piled high with flowers.”

I asked Tian if he’d had a chance to practice in Paris for his recital of Chopin’s works this April and I was surprised to hear, “Not much.” One of the reasons Tian was drawn to Paris in the first place was the fact that Chopin had enjoyed one of the most creative periods of his life there. Tian wondered how living in the city, surrounded by the art, the sights, sounds, and smells of a city Chopin loved, might reshape the way Tian played his music.

And that’s when Tian used the word inspired. As soon he returned to Crawfordsville over the break, he headed for the piano to begin practicing again. He said yes, he was a little rusty, but he spent hours just playing and noticed he was playing the Chopin differently, maybe had something different, and more, to give the pieces. His piano teacher noticed, too.

“I think living in that place he loved, walking those same streets, I absorbed something,” Tian told me. “Even though I wasn’t able to play piano as much, I was inspired. And I brought that back with me.”

I picture Tian playing piano in the Fine Arts building while seniors are studying for comps, the whole day his to play the music he loves. I wonder if that playing didn’t transport Tian back to his own time in Paris, too, and the sounds of Chopin take him from the cold C’ville winter back to autumn walks along the Seine. I wonder, too, how the time in Paris will inspire his painting (Tian is an art major, economics minor).

His recital of Chopin’s work is scheduled for Friday, April 9.