How a master inspires change

How transformation can happen in a moment

My mouth hangs open. I can't believe the words my new piano teacher just said after I finish playing my favorite piece for him. "You slide your fingers well over the keyboard. . . But you don't play." All the excitement and anticipation I have been feeling about starting piano lessons with a pupil of the great pianist Claudio Arrau seems to disappear as if someone had punch a balloon and all the air had escaped.

The year is 1968. The place is Santiago de Cuba. Raúl Estevanel was once a popular concert pianist in Cuba and outside of the country. Now, he vegetates at home, teaching piano lessons to whomever is not afraid to cross his doorway and be labeled counterrevolutionary. There's no place in Communist Cuba for a concert pianist trained in the USA with a sexual identity that makes him even more of a Pariah in a society that frowns on plurality.

I'm young and full of pride with my accomplishments. After all, I have been playing the piano for 8 years, and think I do it very well, if I may say so myself. I'm eager to show him what I can do. Apparently he's not impressed. How is that possible? All my friends seem to be!

And then he says: "let me show you what I mean". He takes my place at the piano bench. He has not played more than half a page when I can see exactly what he means. His are the hands and soul of a master. The notes sing and soar. I can see not only notes, but a whole landscape of feelings and pictures. I can hear the joy of the piece contrasted with the tears of deep suffering. Even my 16 year old heart is moved.

He stops in the middle of a passage and says, now you do it. Me? How can I bring to it the same pathos, the same mastery. He sees the doubtful expression on my face and gives me the first valuable lesson of many. "You don't have to do it exactly like me. You are you. Just reach down deep inside you and feel it. Don't just play the notes. Let them talk to you. Feel them. Then, share them with the world."

Really? Is it that easy? I take a deep breath and do what he asks. And a miracle seems to happen. The piece is transformed. Now it's alive. Not perfect. No. That will come after hard work, after he patiently shows me how to clean up passages and examine meanings. After I spend 4-6 hours every day polishing, falling more in love with the music, forgetting the confines of a place without liberties, and going into a world well beyond political restrictions.

That was the beginning of the journey. The beginning of growing up. The beginning of understanding the power of a leading conversation! 

Remember. . .

Your example and coaching are the most powerful tools for developing your people. Coaching is powerful!