They say that music is the universal language. It taps into the deepest recesses of the brain.
While my wife, Meryl, and I were traveling in Australia, we stopped in the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), an elaborately renovated marketplace in the Sydney Central Business District. Originally designed at the end of the 19th century, it was constructed in the Romanesque style popular at that time, with a central dome consisting of an interior glass dome and a copper-sheathed exterior. Resembling a cathedral with its stained-glass windows and smaller domes on the corners of the building, the grandeur of this renovated building is impressive. Its uppermost third floor is bathed in a rosy glow as light pours through the colored glass.
As we approached the third floor, I could hear someone playing a grand piano. It was a young German man who had been teaching English in China for years. He explained that he was a “regular” at the QVB public piano, stopping by frequently at the shopping center whenever he was in Australia. A crowd of listeners had gathered, some of whom were waiting their turn to play.
I felt comfortable talking to the fellow music lovers and found out that there were people from Sydney who came here often to hear these spontaneous concerts. Several families from Hong Kong and China who had been shopping in the upscale stores heard the live music and were drawn to the source. There were also some European tourists who had learned about the QVB piano on its Facebook page.
When it was my turn to play, I chose a few show tunes in contrast to the classical pieces that the young German man had played. Since we were planning to see “My Fair Lady” at the Sydney Opera House the next day, my choices included “I Could Have Danced All Night” to “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” As I finished playing the second song, the crowd had grown to more than 20 people, and many were singing along with the show’s well-known lyrics.
I enjoyed seeing how much pleasure my music brought to this very diverse audience. It wasn’t just the popularity of this classic musical; it was the sense of connection that familiar music brings to its listeners, myself included.
As the next pianist took his turn, an Asian family approached me. Their two teen-aged sons spoke English perfectly. They told me that they were originally from Hong Kong and had moved permanently to Australia some years back. The boys were attending high school in Sydney.
The older boy, William, loved to play piano and brought his family to the QVB piano every time they were in the downtown area. He often came just to meet people from all over the world. Like me, he had stumbled on the piano by chance.
Coincidentally, we were planning on visiting Hong Kong a few months later as we were making our way back to the United States. William happened to be traveling there at the same time to visit some relatives at the end of his high school year.
My wife loves to say that I never like to pass up an opportunity while we’re traveling, so I suggested that we meet up with William while we were in Hong Kong before returning to the US.
While there, William met us at our hotel and took us to see some of his favorite places. We spent the whole day with him, using public transportation, visiting markets frequented only by native-born residents, eating in restaurants without an English-translated menu and going to places where tour buses never ventured. It was as if we were visiting an old friend, all due to our love of playing the piano.
For my entire life, playing the piano has been a source of enjoyment and relaxation. When I am given a unique chance to share this pleasure with others, especially in a foreign country, it adds to my thrill of interacting with new people, which happens to be the major reason why I love to travel.
Music for me is truly the international language of friendship.