This blog post is dedicated to Tagaloa Peter Su'a - the Samoan Piano Man
In a few hours I will be in a church conducting one of four hymns in a final rehearsal before the final service to honour, pay tribute to and farewell Tagaloa Peter Su'a. I had gone to a mass choir rehearsal to sing for him - something I had never had the opportunity to do as our paths never crossed in that sense. I had admired Peter's piano playing skills from afar. He was one of the few pianists I knew that had the 'touch' that I liked - light, pristine, intuitive; Peter understood how a piano should be touched - how you could make it cry, laugh or howl with anger simply by the way his forearms, wrists, hands and fingers connected with the keys.
I had known him for years as a child, even though we would never meet formally until I was a young woman later in life. You see, he taught my second cousins how to play the piano. I was learning to play the piano too at the time with another teacher and I remember my cousins challenging me to sightread the lessons that Peter was teaching them. I knew then that he was a hard task master - not only was the music technically difficult but my cousins would regale me with stories about his high expectations and zero tolerance for non-practice. Little did I know that I would meet Peter later and get to witness these attributes for myself.
Goodbye my angel time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say
I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know, wherever you may go
No matter where you are, I never will be far away
Goodnight my angel now it's time to sleep
And still so many thing I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
The water's dark and deep inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me. . .
Lullabye (goodbye my angel) is a song by Billy Joel from his 1993 River of Dreams album. In light of Peter leaving this earth, for me, this song from the original Piano Man resonates deeply. I imagine that to some extent, Peter will have had a conversation like this with all of his loved ones - with his beautiful daughter, with all of the young people he mentored and taught over the years.
In the clip below, Billy Joel explains a bit of the background that inspired the composition - his daughter. The thing that I love about this performance when he guest starred on Inside the Actors Studio is what he shows as the hallmark of great musicians - the subtle nuances of modifying from the original slightly. I loved this about Peter's piano playing - he would always add some other details to the notation that would never be quite the same each time he performed. I have not heard another pianist who could emulate him, let alone come close.
Goodnight my angel now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullabye
Then in your heart there will always be a part of me. . .
The instrumentation in the official music video below also draws connections with Peter's love of choral arrangements - of voice parts with the harmonies together with orchestration. Those who have sung in Peter's choirs will know that he was meticulous and careful with not only the backing track arrangements of his work but the ways in which the intonation and articulation of the music would be expressed.
Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on
They never die
That's how you and I will be. . .
Thanks for sharing your gift of music with the world.
Those who have learned this gift from you - will ensure that it will never die.
Rest in peace Tagaloa Peter Su'a - Ia manuia lou malaga xx