Beethoven by Bike

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When Jenny called me a few weeks ago to tell me that she would have been happy to play for our students, I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming! And actually it was a real phone call on a real cable from the real Jenny…   “Beethoven by Bike” is a fascinating adventure that took Jenny across seven countries between May 2011 and June 2012, cycling for 3,500 miles across Europe from Denmark to Greece, only equipped with her love for music, her inspiration, high professional skills and a strong determination to get it done… and her bike, of course.

She gave over forty concerts during her trip to fundraise for her journey on the run !  It is now a pleasure to present here an extract from Jenny’s forthcoming book “Beethoven by Bike” which focuses on the special source of inspiration for her special journey.

I want to speak of inner melodies that weave themselves between the seasons and throughout the adventures of pedaling a bike through 7 countries.

From Danish summer through Slovakian winter and out into Greek Spring.

This is the story of the year I rode 3500 miles from Denmark to Greece. Over that year I played Beethoven’s last 3 piano sonatas whenever I could. I also painted 300 or so little pictures, made countless friends and when I came back, a promise not to return to normal.

The seeds of musical inspiration can be traced back to my early childhood days and were sown right from the heart.

My passionate love for my mother was inseparable from her piano playing. I was thrilled with music long before I could read. Her love wrapped itself around me while her music-making spread its roots softly within.

I have many memories of sitting happily tucked up inside her old felt dressing gown, enveloped in her bosomly warmth while she played to me. I was in such raptures on her lap in front of the keyboard I felt as though I was going to burst out of my skin every time.

These experiences totally fused her warm presence with the exhilaration of music and her favourite Chopin prelude spun joy into every fibre of my being. I was fascinated by all the tantalising lines and squiggles covering the tattered pages on the piano desk and desperately wanted to understand them. “Again, again” I egged her on incessantly.

These infant longings have never left me and I am sure I made a promise to myself that I would one day play as beautifully as she did.

I was 11 when she died after her long struggle with cancer. Her poignant last gift was also a piece of music. The beautiful wistful prelude in C minor by Pachulski became a comforting solace in my private grief and from then on playing the piano was destined to be the natural vehicle of expression through which I could make sense of the circumstances and events which shaped me as I grew up and on into adulthood.

In my 50th year I decided to celebrate my mother’s gifts and my lifelong love of music, paying tribute to her by learning Beethoven’s monumental last 3 piano sonatas. I planned to perform them at the opening of the local Steiner School hall on their wonderful new grand piano. It was a colossal undertak

ing, and one which would not only steer me along an immense inner journey, but which would gradually propel me on another kind of journey altogether, the like of which I could not yet have imagined.

I shall never forget the exquisite experience of those early morning practices when the dawn chorus, the first rush of whispering breeze and the shimmering closing phrases of the last sonata seemed to coalesce in a radiant moment of eternity. I felt I wanted those precious moments to go on for ever.

Encompassing as they do, the whole spectrum of human experience, the last 3 sonatas were considered to be the most spiritually profound works of the 19th century. Anyone in Beethoven’s Europe who played all 3 would have been awarded the equivalent of a knighthood. They also demonstrated his inner response to despair and his astonishing will as he transformed his own personal catastrophe of deafness by re-dedicating himself to his art in a deliberate act of service to mankind. His made use of his loss to fuel his

creativity and transformed it with the power of music.

Shortly before his fatal heart attack my beloved Martin had said to me ” you know Jenny, if you were to stop playing the piano, and I’m not saying you should, you might find there are all sorts of things you would love to do”. He was only 52 and we had had just one precious year together. I am quite sure that this second major bereavement was an extraordinary gift and a prompt to weld love and loss, creativity and transformation together.

Here was the opportunity.I had read countless books by intrepid women cyclists like Dervla Murphy and long harboured the desire for an extended bicycle tour of my own.After my big Beethoven marathon I wanted respond to those wonderful sonatas in another way and to explore a different kind of musical experience. This time I wanted to mesh my own inner journey within the vast spiritual landscapes of Beethoven’s music and combine them with a challenging physical pilgrimage. ” For surely in wood rocks and trees lies the echo that man desires to hear ” Beethoven’s words to express his love of the natural world. Feelings I resonated with perfectly.

I wanted to take Beethoven, his courage tenderness and generosity with me as my companion and example. Obviously I couldn’t take such a cumbersome instrument as a piano with me, so I made up my mind to play wherever pianos showed up and share the sonatas and their embracing humanity as I went.

I began to make plans. I put my teaching commitments and my Totnes life on hold and loaned my fabulous Steinway to a dear piano-teaching friend. I rented out my house and moved into a simple but cosy shepherd’s hut from which I could come and go with ease. Last but not least I went to collect my superb two-wheeled steed, now famed as ‘Sir Galahad’ from master bike-builder, Dave Yates in Lincolnshire.

My family put their heads on one side and realised I meant it.

It seemed that if Beethoven had faith in me to continue playing his music, I just had to have faith that the pianos would keep showing up.

They did.

And in the most unexpected places……[/quote]

(Extract from Jenny’s forthcoming book “Beethoven by Bike” – Drawings by Jenny Quick)

Every summer I seek availability of local artists and people who can deliver their passions and talents to our students: it is not just to learn English but to nurture the needs of young souls with significant contents from other human beings. This summer has been very intense in this respect as Adrian, Sue and Jenny in Devon, John in Holywood came to meet and work with our teenagers and youngsters with all their warmth and enthusiasm.   Now we are very close to turn another dream into reality and to see Jenny performing her piano recital “Beethoven by Bike” for AEL students in the great hall at South Devon Steiner School!

On Thursday 15th August Jenny will play for us music by Brahmas, Greig, Pachulski, Janacek, Bartok and Beethoven recounting her journey with anecdotes and memories. Everyone is welcome!  If you are not in Devon this Thursday but want to hear more about AEL events, stay tunes on this blog: there is more to come!

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I am the founder and manager of the AEL project, committed to take care of the wellbeing of our young learners as well as their good language development.