Playing the Piano and The Gift of Music

His name was Court Stone. A confirmed bachelor, he lived in an old house, in a beautiful old neighbourhood of Toronto, about a 25-minute walk from my house. He looked after his elderly father, who I always heard stories about but never saw. Apparently he had dementia.

Every week, I walked to his house for my one-hour piano lesson. I would often arrive early and sit in the waiting area and listen to the student before me. I loved that waiting room. It had an old harp (out of tune) and a foot pedal, air pump organ. It had all of the stops and buttons that would change how it sounded.

Mr. Stone was a kindly older man in the traditional old British style (but was born in Canada) and he was a brilliant piano teacher. He built an extension onto his house to create a teaching studio that contained two 12-foot Steinway concert grand pianos side by side. Oh, the sound that came out of those pianos.

A typical boy with some musical talent, I was not realizing my potential because I had other things to do than practice. Thankfully, for me, video games, iPods, and other portable electronic devices had yet to be invented, or I would have been lost forever. After some time, and after running out of new excuses as to why I did not have time to practice, he told me to practice or not come back. Whoa! Wake up call. I was so embarrassed I could not tell my parents, so I started to practice. And, before I knew it, I was playing songs that I actually enjoyed hearing and then everything changed.

One of my most vivid memories was playing a piece called Piano Concerto in C (I cannot for the life of me remember who composed it). It had two parts, the lead piano, which is the part I learned, and the “orchestra” part, which also could be played on a second piano. I had forgotten about the fact this was a concerto that required an orchestra and one day, while playing this for my teacher, he sat down at the other piano and started to play the accompanying orchestral part that complemented what I was playing and I don’t think I stopped smiling for a whole week. Being a part of creating that beautiful music was humbling, and exciting. To this day, I relive that moment as if it was yesterday.

In Canada, there is a formal training system for music education called the Royal Conservatory of Music. (It seems that everything important in Canada has the word Royal attached to it, so strong are our British ties and heritage as a country.) Eventually, I rose to complete Grade 10 (the highest level) at the Royal Conservatory and made my parents and teacher proud. But music was not to be my career.

Those years of playing the piano trained my brain for working my fingers on both hands in a coordinated manner that has allowed me to be an accomplished typist, and hopefully has helped me with my dentistry as well. We certainly work in a small space, using fine motor skills in dimensions that measure in fractions of millimeters.

As a GP dentist, I enjoy the variety of procedures and disciplines we are capable of doing, in preventive dentistry, restorative dentistry, prosthetics, endodontics, periodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics, radiology, oral medicine, and more. However, as much as we know, I am also grateful for the opportunity to work with wonderful colleagues who are specialists in a specific field of dentistry.

I have worked with, and continue to work with, many fine periodontists. One of the colleagues who I enjoy working with is Dr. Thomas Yu who is also an accomplished amateur concert pianist. He has travelled the world playing the piano with professional symphony orchestras at a level of ability and accomplishment that far exceeds what I ever achieved. What a gift he has.

Dr. Yu was voted into the 2014 Class of the Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Magazine and I could not be happier for him, achieving this wider recognition.

I have not played the piano in more than 35 years. I look at the music I used to play, and it is all so foreign to me. It is a “language” I have lost. I hope to pick it up again someday soon. Now, my excuse is a busy dental practice and family life. No longer the young boy with few responsibilities, my life has a way of filling my time as I age.

As we ply our daily grind, don’t forget to enjoy the gifts we are both given, and the ones we get to enjoy witnessing and experiencing that others possess.

Warm regards,

Larry Stanleigh, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD

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