With the enrollment in a state-run boarding school when I was ten-years old, I had at my disposition an old but decently in-shape upright piano in the dining hall, and thus I started piano playing, or what could be mistaken as a drum machine—given the fact that I used the piano as a percussion instrument. In fact, I had no idea how to use this instrument for what I only later learnt to be legato play.
Also because the other boys reacted with aggression when I attempted to play ‘classical’ or when I practiced scales, I was more or less forced to play only jazz, blues and boogie-woogie. I learnt the basics of harmony for this simplistic kind of music, and was eager to take lessons in classical music, but none of the two music teachers in high-school were agreeing with giving me lessons. Both said they were too engaged professionally during the afternoon hours, so I was left on my own and did not learn what is the most important: score reading and developing my left hand.
At the age of 18, when I was allowed to leave the boarding, I was taking piano lessons with a neighbor women from Leipzig who had studied under a certain ‘Professor Sauer’ at the Leipzig Music Conservatory. (I guess it was not the famous Emil von Sauer, who was never teaching there). My first two study pieces were the first tune of Schumann’s Kinderszenen and the first Arabesque by Claude Debussy.
At age 22, I enrolled for private lessons with Professor Alexander Sellier from Saarbrücken Music Conservatory. Professor Sellier immediately saw the pitiful condition of my left hand and suggested me to study a selection of exercises from Berens, Pflege der Linken Hand.
My mother had bought me a Schimmel piano and I was practicing several hours per day, seriously, with high ambitions, but it was all for nothing, as the neighbors threatened us with a court action if I was continuing to ‘disturb the peace of the building.’
Sellier did not understand the psychological reasons why I could not memorize anything at that time. I was just bathed in anxiety with the steady threats we were receiving and the anger of my mother which was her reaction to all of that, and unfortunately her only reaction for she had no positive feelings about my musical interests at all.
Finally, in order to avoid further trouble, I found a nearby duplex apartment that had been constructed by the same architect, and my plan was of course to get the piano on the second floor in order to not disturb anybody.
Only when we had moved in already did we realize that the piano could not be transported on the higher floor except by an outside lifting device. It was impossible to lift the piano using the winding staircase. As my mother found the hire-charge for a huge lifter too expensive, the piano had to stay on the lower floor and the result was trouble with the neighbors in the apartment below us. They were working in our local casino, night-shift, and were feeling disturbed by my play. We first cooperated and made an agreement in which I was the loser: I had agreed to practicing only two hours per day, from 10 am to 12, and I was following the rule, while they then found that I had to stop entirely, as they argued they had to sleep longer and beyond 10 am …
As they insisted, thereby violating our agreement, I went to court … and lost. They won the lawsuit and I had to stop playing, which meant for me to move out of the apartment and into an old flat downtown that I shared with a couple of students. The flat was rat-infested, had no central heating and the old oven was somehow defective; there was no water heater either and in winter I was freezing my guts out, but I could eventually practice the piano.
I then had composed a little etude for the left hand, dedicating it to Sellier and leaving it with him in the hope he could play it once for me. But it disappeared and was never found again. Sellier said casually that his son Anselm, age 4, had played in the score chamber …
I canceled the lessons and never took up again studying with a teacher, but wholly on my own. I then can say that I am, if ever, a self-taught pianist.
Unfortunately, I had one more problem, a kind of dyslexia for score reading, constantly confounding the two keys and substituting wrong notes for right ones because of large-scale anxiety. This anxiety manifested in sweating and sometimes also a fluttering movement of my hands.
This problem lasted for many years, holding me back in my study of compositions and composers, as it was simply too time-consuming to study new scores. (The problem actually only resided through positive affirmations, and at the year of this writing, in 2020).
Because of this general anxiety that was the result of abuses suffered in the boarding and the lack of understanding of my teachers, I started in 1994 a new journey: I began to record my improvisations:
In 2003 I composed a series of mini piano etudes.
This allowed me to focus on developing my own style, which was first a sort of cocktail piano, that I called my ‘Charlie’ style and then expanded into musical improvisations based on classical harmonies, in ‘July 2017 Improvisations’ and ‘I Love You, Puerto Rico.’
In 2020, recently, I returned to jazz piano, but in a different mood and with eventually a serious intention. For while I had experimented with jazz piano over my younger years, this was not a serious interest for somehow my views were conditioned and I adhered to the prejudice that classical music was the only ‘serious’ music and jazz, blues, or pop were ‘light’ music. This is after all the official view at music conservatories around the world. So I had to really go through a journey of de-conditioning and this was only possible after I fully accepted my musical talent and at the same time, my predicament. This process was completed in the first half of 2020, at my age of 65. So I can say that this step into musical maturity took me 55 years to accomplish …
I started to study Stride Piano, from a collection by Judy Carmichael, titled ‘Introduction to Stride Piano.’
I also take up my studies again of improvisations by Thelonius Monk, Earl Hines and Art Tatum. Having in the meantime overcome all anxiety, I am preparing those pieces for recording through the meticulous study of the scores published either in books, as dedicated scores or through Youtube videos that display the score.