From basketball to the slippery ski slopes and beyond, sportsmen aren’t alone in having to weigh up the odds.
There I was on top of a steep, bumpy ‘black’ (ski) run, scared to death and able to see, not only right down the slope, but all the way to central Vancouver, almost to the concert hall itself from high up on Cypress Mountain. “So what else you gonna do today, Freddy?”
I remember that moment very well. I recall suddenly thinking that I did in fact have to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto that evening, which did increase the anxiety I was already feeling and may have been part of the reason why I did not manage to conquer that particular mountain on that particular day; and why I ended up falling over yet again…
I started learning to ski aged 29 and it has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my life so far. Quite miraculously, earlier this year, I did manage to finally conquer my skis and have finally graduated to being what I’d dare to call (even on my local hill in Bavaria) an expert skier.
However I spent almost all of my childhood shying away from everything remotely dangerous in order to protect my “gift” of playing the piano. And now, very much in the middle of my life, I really wonder what is right? What is dangerous? And how careful does one really need to be?
The first injury I can recall was at junior school during normal PE class. One of the activities was playing basketball: everything was still new and exciting and I misjudged a catch and stubbed my middle finger. I remember that it hurt enough to mean having to not touch a piano for a few days, and also meant the end to my basketball playing days! The next injury had nothing to do with any sort of risky sport or activity whatsoever. We had stopped at a filling station on the way to a piano lesson, I got out to go buy some sweets as my mum was filling up the car, somehow forgot about what I was doing and slammed the car door right onto my thumb!
Right throughout my schooling this concept of safety and risk resulted in my staying away from football, rugby, cricket, cadet force etc. I’m not entirely sure any more whether I was genuinely concerned about injury or whether I was simply using it as an excuse. What did slightly change my view was a conversation in my very early 20s with a piano technician. I think he was a keen motorcyclist and I probably had asked him if he wasn’t worried about his own safety.
He proceeded to tell me about how a particular concert grand, that had a fracture somewhere on its iron frame, had been mistakenly retuned and brought back up to concert pitch resulting in approximately 20 metric tons of pressure on the damaged structure. It had somehow held until a pianist sat down and started playing on it. He didn’t say who this was, but had said how the pianist was particularly careful and cautious, always wearing gloves and never carrying anything. The combined pressure and vibrations caused the frame to fail and bits of iron were found driven into the wooden floor at least on the level below where the piano had been. And the pianist? He or she had very unluckily suffered injuries severe enough to end their career.
“My current philosophy is that if something is going to happen, then it probably just will“
My current philosophy is that if something is going to happen, then it probably just will. I do try to avoid anything that could be called stupidity, but I don’t try to shy away from anything that isn’t 100% safe. What I actively do is to minimise risk as much as possible. If I go skiing on unfamiliar territory then I will always go on an off-peak day or time and always go with someone (i.e. an instructor) that knows the mountain… And just in case anyone is wondering why on earth someone in their 30s would put themselves through trying to learn a dangerous sport, then I would say that because I live in the European Alps it’s inevitable that at least one of my three children would become a keen skier. And I just wanted to see if I could still learn, just so I could go ski with them some day.
Freddy Kempf plays a Medici Concert in Brisbane on October 4 and two separate recitals at Sydney Opera House on October 9