Slice of life: Learning about music and life

I was 16 and living on my own in Johannesburg, attending high school at the National School of the Arts. I was practising myself to a standstill, trying to get into the school’s annual concerto festival with a Mozart piano concerto. I wasn’t sleeping — well, sleeping very little — I was just working, spending all my time at the piano, every moment I had.

The auditions were the following day. I went to Ros [Liebman] for my final piano lesson in preparation. She took one look at me and cancelled the piano lesson. She gave me a large vegetarian meal, with freshly made beetroot juice, and drove me home to rest. She said : ‘Any practice now is pointless, you have to rest’. I didn’t play well enough the next day to make it through for the festival, but her kindness stayed with me. Ros used to say she really didn’t feel like a piano teacher, she couldn’t be a piano teacher because, every week, there was a different challenge. And some weeks, the challenge wasn’t the piano. So she used to say some weeks she was a psychologist, some weeks a doctor, you know.

That’s the thing about Ros — some teachers say their lesson is an hour and they stick to that. But Ros’s “hour” was as long as it took; she would say: ‘I teach until the lesson is learnt.’ She taught very differently to everyone else and kind of created a community around her. That day that she gave me that meal, I thought that what I was trying to get into was Mozart, but the meal was what I needed, the love was what I needed and the rest was what I needed.

She taught me how music fits into the rhythm of life. ­

Daniel Hutchinson, composer and music teacher, as told to Franny Rabkin. Ros Liebman died in October 2018

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Franny Rabkin
Franny Rabkin
Franny is the legal reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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