Meeting After A Moment Of Musical Connection, 17 Years Later

Jan 7, 2018
Originally published on January 7, 2018 5:30 pm

There are times when we can connect — surprisingly deeply — with a stranger, and then never see them again. A missed connection. A while ago, we asked you to call in with your "missed connections" stories, and let us help you find that person.

Greta Pane called in about an encounter she had through the wall of a piano practice room almost 20 years ago.

Pane is a post-doctoral fellow in English literature at Boston University now. But back then, she was an undergrad student at the University of Pennsylvania. She played piano intensely during high school. And when she got to college, she would play in one of the practice rooms in the basement of the music department. Sometimes she would play alone for hours at a time.

"And one day I was playing Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G Minor, and when I stopped, the person in the practice room next to me started to play it and then stopped," she says. "And I realized that this person was playfully imitating me."

So Pane started testing the mystery pianist behind the wall.

"They know Rachmaninoff's Prelude, but do they know Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu?" she thought to herself. "So I started to play the first few bars of that, and stopped. Then this person took it up and played it back to me very, very well. I thought, 'OK, this person can play the Fantasie Impromptu, but can they play the third movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata?' and this person immediately started to play it and then stopped."

They went back and forth like this for a while, Pane says. She went through her entire repertoire.

"And this person could play every piece," she says.

Pane didn't want to disturb the mystery pianist, but on her way out, she checked the practice room log for the name of the person in the other room. There was a name there, but she couldn't read it. The handwriting was too bad.

Pane didn't put a name or a face to her practice companion that day, but their musical connection was there.

"To hear someone else also playing these same pieces, it's like the auditory equivalent of seeing your double," she says.

About 17 years later, Pane still thought about that missed connection. Other than their repertoire, what else would they have had in common? Would they have been friends? She regretted not knocking on the practice room door.

So when she called in with her story, we wanted to help. We reached out to UPenn, and the director of performance there directed us to a long-time teacher who said there was only one student who could have done this. So we called him up.

His name is Noah Farber, and he's a pianist in the Philadelphia area. He specializes in dance accompaniment and also does choral accompaniment and some composing.

Farber said he thinks he remembers playing those romantic period pieces back and forth with Pane 17 years go. But then again...

"Well, I did actually do it with a few other people, I'm ashamed to admit," he says. It was all in good fun — but there was also that bit of musical connection.

"It is kind of unusual when you have the opportunity to transform these moments when you're in the cell of a practice room by yourself into a moment actually of communication or connection, Pane says. "That's what I think I felt Noah was doing."

Today, music is Farber's job, and though that moment 17 years ago meant so much to Pane, music is not such a big part of her life anymore. We wanted to leave Pane with a musical gift, so we asked Farber to play one of the pieces from their missed connection.

He selected Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor.

"Does it sound familiar?" Farber asked Pane. "Very," she laughed.

If you want help with your missed connection, email us a voice memo with your story at weekend@npr.org.

NPR's Isabel Dobrin produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are times when we can connect surprisingly deeply with a stranger and then never see them again, a missed connection. A while ago, we asked you to call in with your missed connection stories and let us help you find that person. Greta Pane called in about an encounter she had through the wall of a piano practice room almost 20 years ago.

Greta is a postdoctoral fellow in English literature at Boston University now. But back then, she was an undergrad student at the University of Pennsylvania. She played piano intensely during high school. And when she got to college, she would play in one of the practice rooms in the basement of the music department. Sometimes, she would be there alone for hours at a time.

GRETA PANE: And one day, I was playing Rachmaninoff's "Prelude In G Minor." And when I stopped, the person in the practice room next to me started to play it and then stopped. And I realized that this person was playfully imitating me.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENDITION OF RACHMANINOFF'S "PRELUDE IN G MINOR")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Greta started testing the mystery pianist behind the wall.

PANE: They know Rachmaninoff's Prelude. But do they know Chopin's "Fantaisie-Impromptu"?

(SOUNDBITE OF RENDITION OF CHOPIN'S "FANTAISIE-IMPROMPTU")

PANE: So I started to play the first few bars of that and stopped. Then, this person took it up and played it back to me very, very well. I thought, OK, this person can play the "Fantaisie-Impromptu." But can they play the third movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata?" And this person immediately started to play it and then stopped.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENDITION OF BEETHOVEN'S "MOONLIGHT SONATA")

PANE: And so we went back and forth like this for a while. And I went through my entire repertoire, and this person could play every single piece.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENDITION OF BEETHOVEN'S "MOONLIGHT SONATA")

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greta didn't want to disturb the mystery pianist. But on her way out, she checked the practice room log for the name of the person in the other room. There was a name there, but she couldn't read it. The handwriting was too bad.

PANE: When you learn a piece like this, it becomes part of you. It becomes part of your body's memory, and the feelings that you give it are your own. So to hear someone else also playing these same pieces - it's like the auditory equivalent of seeing your double.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greta thought about this missed connection for a long time - 17 years, actually. Other than their repertoire, what else would they have had in common? Would they have been friends? She regretted not knocking on the practice room door. So when Greta Pane called in with her story, we wanted to help. It took weeks. We reached out to UPenn. The director of performance there directed us to a longtime teacher who said there was only one student that could have done this, so we called him up.

NOAH FARBER: My name is Noah Farber. I'm a pianist in the Philadelphia area. I specialize in dance accompaniment. I also do a little choral accompaniment. And I'm a bit of a composer, although I don't really earn money doing that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Greta, meet Noah. Noah, meet Greta (laughter).

FARBER: Hi, Greta.

PANE: Hi. Hi, Noah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Noah thinks he remembers playing those romantic period pieces back and forth with Greta 17 years ago. In fact...

FARBER: Well, I did actually do it with a few other people, I'm ashamed to admit.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Noah, why were you playing with other people, even though you couldn't see them?

FARBER: Yeah, well, because, I guess, for fun. I guess there was a bit of a musical connection there. I mean...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's kind of what you felt, Greta, right?

PANE: Yeah, exactly. It is kind of unusual when you have the opportunity to transform these moments when you're in the cell of the practice room by yourself into a moment actually of communication or connection.

FARBER: Yes.

PANE: That's what I think I felt Noah was doing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Music is Noah's job. But even though that moment meant so much to Greta, music is not such a big part of her life anymore. We wanted to leave Greta with a little musical gift. So we asked Noah to play one of the pieces from their missed connection.

FARBER: Sure. It's Chopin's "Fantaisie-Impromptu In C Sharp Minor." (Playing piano).

Does it sound familiar?

PANE: (Laughter) Very.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Greta Pane of Boston and Noah Farber of Philadelphia. Thank you both so very much.

FARBER: You're welcome. Thank you.

PANE: Thank you.

FARBER: (Playing piano).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if you want to help with your missed connection, email us a voice memo with your story. The address is weekend@npr.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, connecting you to the world. I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

FARBER: (Playing piano). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.