Play It Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible

Alan Rusbridger runs an international newspaper and plays the piano for fun(!)(Photo:
Alan Rusbridger runs an international newspaper and plays the piano for fun(!)(Photo:

The British press has been in bad form lately, what with hacking scandals involving the royal family (except for the Queen who doesn’t have a cell phone) not to mention the Wiki-leaks and Edward Snowden meeting up with Julian Assange. The reporting of this has been presided over by Alan Russbridger, the editor of The Guardian

You would think Mr. Russbridger has enough on his plate. Either for therapy, diversion or in place of booze or xanax, Russbridger went back to piano lessons as a fifty-something and decided to master Chopin’s Ballade in g, opus 23.

Frederic Chopin is the Titian of the piano. He had every bit of color, every drama and every sigh for this instrument in his heart and in his fingertips. Rowdy polish dances mask depths of emotion that are a challenge and a joy to decipher.

There is nothing facile about Chopin. We may think of him as a slightly wimpy and frail specimen but his music has cowed generations of musicians. Excelling in Chopin’s music is the mark of a superb pianist.

Alan Rusbridger doesn’t pretend to be more than an amateur at the keyboard. He seems to have needed an additional challenge , something that had nothing to do with journalism, or politics or scandal. Rusbridger decided to attempt Chopin’s music and chose a nine minute marathon, the Ballade in g minor.

From the Guardian:

Alan Rusbridger’s journey through Chopin is detailed in his new book  Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible. There, amidst the day to day brouhaha of running one of the world’s great newspapers, Alan steals twenty minutes here and ten minutes there to master a brief much loved piece.

Well, its only nine minutes. How hard can it be?


The coda alone, the last few pages, is daunting to many and impossible to the casual pianist. It may be that Alan doesn’t know enough to be afraid, but he minces no words in the difficulty of  learning Chopin’s music. It’s a formidable challenge that resulted in several good not great performances and yielded a wonderful book. You needn’t love music to enjoy Play it Again. The book resonates for anyone who enjoys challenge . Chopin is not for the lazy of the meek. Neither is journalism but I suspect Chopin is more daunting than the Queen ‘s lack of a cell phone of Julian Assange’s temperament.