I studied piano with the French-Canadian concert pianist Jean Dansereau. He was an imposing figure and brilliant pianist who went into seclusion in Yorktown Heights after the war. I had teachers before Dansereau, but none compared to him. Dansereau was a passionate disciple of Chopin, and a master of the French repertoire (especially Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel). I learned a touch from him that he called a "string of pearls" and that sounds like a human voice or a soft bell. As best I can tell from my reading (Harold Schonberg, Charles Rosen, ...) and listening to recordings (Rubinstein, Hoffman, Ignaz Friedman, ...), it is the touch of Chopin himself. Carl Mikuli, Chopin's student, describes this touch vividly.
Dansereau was married to the opera singer Muriel Tannehill. Often when arriving for a lesson, I heard their house ring with the two of them performing together. They were like second parents to me all the way through my teenage years.
I was lucky to grow up near New York and to have a mother who took me to hear great pianists at Carnegie Hall and Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium (Rubinstein, Horowitz, Curzon, Schnabel, Serkin, Richter, Gilels, Cliburn, Wild, Gieseking, ...). Dansereau scorned many pianists (he called them "bangers"), but I came to realize that the piano is a marvelous instrument because it is a musical chameleon. I love the wildly different styles of Glenn Gould (whom Dansereau hated), Horowitz, and Rachmaninoff. Each made the piano sound unique. And I am amazed at the pianists living today. Martha Argerich, Stephen Hough, and Evgeny Kissin can compete with any of the greatest virtuosos I heard in my childhood. And I love hearing Ivo Pogorelich, Peter Serkin, Murray Perahia, and András Schiff. The excitement of being an amateur pianist is to understand the enormous talents of these performers. And, as Charles Rosen has said, making music involves the whole body. Even making music badly is better for the body and soul than passively listening.
I have spent my life trading up pianos like used cars. When we moved into a house in Wicker Park, Chicago, I found room for the piano of my lifetime dreams -- a Steinway Model D. Shortly after it was delivered, the gold letters peeled off the side of the piano. I called the dealer and they came and picked up the piano to be refinished. I told them to paint the side black because I wasn't fond of Steinway lettering the size of a Greyhound bus logo. Meanwhile, the dealer delivered a Steinway C&A concert piano normally assigned to Ramsey Lewis. I couldn't believe my fingers. I loved it, but they wouldn't let me keep it. Instead, the technician recalibrated my piano action to feel like the C&A piano. I was thrilled. This beautiful instrument is the finest I've ever played. It will be my last.