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Jan 22, 2009

Rafał Blechacz's teachers talk about his childhood

Excerpt from "Aleś bracie narozrabiał, (Brother, you made a big fuss!!!)"
by Teresa Trojanska, Gazeta Wyborcza (Dec.19, 2005)

Interviews with those who discovered and nurtured Rafał Blechacz's talent when he was young.
This segment was translated from original Polish to English by Dana, a Polish fan of Blechacz
for a large community of Rafał Blechacz's music lovers.
Thank you very much Dana!!
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Pay attention during journey where to put your hands.

When a door closes, you can easily crush a finger

We sit with Rafał's father arranging a list of persons who have contributed to Rafał's success.
Rafał's mother is bringing cakes.
Rafał recommends to try this pancake with whipped cream.
The flat in Nakło. Clean, cozy.
Yamaha takes almost a half of the room.
The piano Rafał received in the piano competition in Japan two years ago.
Yamaha as a prize of Chopin competition didn't arrive yet.


The priest Jan Andrzejczak:
-You will be an organist.


Which year was then? Probably in 1992.

-I went on Christmas carol. I preached the Blechaczes. Superb home.
Grandmother and grandfather, parents.
Little Paulina and Rafał who was then seven years old.

-Play me something, perhaps you will be organist in the future?

The priest Andrzej has pretty baritone, graduated from the secondary music school.
He began "God be with you and your spirit"

-How will you play it?

And Rafał played. The priest gives him again and again the new keys.
Rafał improvised.
The priest Andrzej has tears in his eyes.

-If I talk about Rafał, I am always moved.

It is exceptional chance in my life that will never happen again.

-It's necessary to place him at school- I said to the father.

He went to Bydgoszcz, where he was for several years like priest at cathedral.
He found an organist Prof. Krystyna Krynicka.

Krystyna Krynicka. Rafał has talent.

She came, totally disinterested. Heard Rafałl at the rectory in church.
Rafał came with father. He played on the old Förster with candlesticks.

-You harmonize very interestingly- she said to Rafał,
and said to his father that his son has talent.
And to priest that they could not leave the child in Nakło
and it's necessary to put the child at music school in Bydgoszcz.

In the middle of school year?

She went to J. Polanski who taught her daughter at Music School.

-We will go to Vienna and one place will be free- she said.
Polanski agreed to hear Rafał.


Courtesy Orlen "Rafal Blechacz"


Joanna Brzezinska and Jacek Polanski: You have already paid.

-A little bird- says J. Polanski about Rafał - Very tiny, very thin and he didn't touch pedals with his legs.

He heard Rafał together with J. Brzezinska.
Mrs, Janina, pianist, was the director of Section Keys Instrument, now she lives in Switzerland.

-Rafałl came with his father. He was eight years old but looked like a preschool child.
She didn't remember weather he talked something. Probably no.
He gave the impression of being a timid child.

- We asked him to play what he likes.
He played carol with his improvisation.
On this legato -she thought- you should have work for several years but he has it inside.

-Wow, what these little hands do on keys!!!-Polanski shows how Rafał played.

-He shifted one over the others extremely deftly.

To obtain sounds of union, melodiousness of legato, he didn't touch pedals, he did with hands, different tricks.

Brzezinska was impressed and cried.

- Jacek likes to exaggerate.- Joanna cried later when she heard how Rafał played Variations by Haydn for four hands with Jacek Polanski together.
And Sonata by Mozart sounded in a way that was rarely heard even from matured pianists.

-Very funny -she says- but after one of my concerts,
Rafał told his father that he would like to play like me.
And today -she laughs- I would like to play like him.

Dad asked J. Polanski,

-How much should I pay you for hearing?

-You paid already- answered Polanski. He wanted to teach Rafał.

It was necessary to go through the protocol of acceptance to school, also an entrance exam.
J. Brzezinska went to the director of school to accept Rafał to school immediately.
It doesn't matter to which class -first, second, eight, wherever is a place because he will finish it earlier before time.

Iwona Zyta and Barbara Jarecka: There are much talented children.

Dad waited in the corridor, and two ladies Iwona Zyta and Barbara Jarecka examined Rafał routinely.
It's necessary to verify his hearing and rhythm ability.
A pupil must also repeat something after teacher, must clap or tap or sing.
Are these good methods to assess a fairly gifted child?

During an entrance exam, you do not discover real talent rather
because very often they are very modest and aren't able to sell their skills at once.
Verdi didn't get into school in Milan.

-What will you sing? -Jarecka asked Rafał.

-I won’t sing- he answered.
Today he doesn't sing either.

-I am not a fan of singing-he says -I am ashamed to sing for people.

-Also, play something.
And he played several bars organ melody and two minuets by Bach, very simple ones.

-Concentrated, deeply into music- B. Jarecka remembers.

-So gifted a child I have never seen.

Also –reserves- there are many talented children.
How their future will be totally depends on teachers whom they will meet on their roads.

Rafał was admitted to second class and his teacher was J. Polanski.

Mom: I have endured it.

Rafał would be a girl. He was expected born on 5th of July, 1985.
All friends of Renata Blechacz said;

- It will be a girl, for sure.
So if a girl, Kigna is the only name; like a beautiful pupil at kindergarten where
Renata Blechacz worked.

On Saturday 29th of June, Mrs. Blechacz felt that it would be soon.
-No, no. I must endure, it must wait.
That evening her friend has married a French man.
She wore a dress for the wedding from Paris, all the people of Nakło wanted to see them.

-And I have endured- she laughs. She made wishes and came back home
and went to hospital. The next day she gave birth to Rafał. It was on Sunday.

-The boy. Let it be, it doesn't matter. Healthy? Thank God.
The first child. Weighed 2,950 grams.

-Of course, he was beautiful. He had black hair like my husband.
I called him

-I must give name to our child. You must quickly invent it.

-Michael- he said

-No, no

-Maybe Paul? Yesterday was the name day of Paul.

-Many children have this name now - said the midwife.

-At the moment let it be Paul and later we will change -said Mrs. Blechacz.

-It must be the name of saint. The boy must have his patron.
Patron must protect him from evil.

We were listening to radio 3 and suddenly we heard a name of the commentator:

Rafał; he had a beautiful voice.
-Listen, beautiful voice, nice name
and Rafał is the name of the archangel who protects travelers and sick persons.

Dad: Don't give up.

Krzysztof Blechacz didn't remember hard moments.
-None. A despair? None. A breakdown? None.

-It is good. Blieves the priest Jan Andrzejczak,
-because this is what you have in mind now.

-Many times, he said:
- You have to be strong, do not give up, you have to withstand and it is really worthy.

Educating a talented child is a challenge for the whole family.
The key is a good logistics and create a warm, secure atmosphere.

-Rafał would not have attained the success without help of his father,
says Anna Szarapka, the teacher of music theory.

-I wish each child has such a family and father; wise, cautious, caring for child without an exaggeration.

Rafał’s father has never shown any impatience or tiredness.
But he must have been tired, very tired.
He has been with his son for all the lessons, sometimes reading, often working
and always listened to comments of the teacher
so that later at home he could remind Rafał of them when he practiced on the piano.

Sommerfeld - on the occasion

At Blechacz's home there was always the piano.
The great-grandfather played, his name Josef, was the teacher at a village school near Nakło.
The grandfather Cyryl played on old piano "Rud.Ibach".

Uncle Roman plays very well so that he received the family piano and it went with him to Toruń.

Rafał's father likes playing too.
The piano "Sommerfeld" went to Nakło by chance.
A relative of grandfather, village school teacher went into retirement and had to move to the first level.
He found that the transfer of piano was without sense.

-We buy it- decided the father- Let it leave in family.
He was missing the piano.
The Sommerfeld appeared at home when Rafał was one year old.

The boy started interest in it when he was three or four years old.
He often came closer to it, touched keys, pressed, checked their sound, heard taped melodies.

-We ought to do something with him- said the uncle.

-But what?


Courtesy Orlen "Rafal Blechacz"



Music center without money

It is in 1990. Rafał is five years old.
Nakło is a remote province. 18 thousand inhabitants with one secondary school.
The nearest music school is in Bydgoszcz, 32 kilometers away from Nakło.
Should one bring a small child to Bydgoszcz every day for years?
Leaving him at a boarding school?

-Too early- said mom.
-Let him go to a zero class (preschool) now and later to the first class.
Let us leave him alone for now.

Father enrolled him in a music center in Nakło where he earlier was going too.
Rafał was taught by Jozefowicz who was arriving from Bydgoszcz.
He played different works and Rafał repeated them by hearing.
He taught Rafał to read notes in treble clef.

Nobody and nothing could separate Rafał from piano.
He sat very often near the organ in church..

Mrs. teacher: Show me how a bird sings.

When Rafał finished the preschool, the parents decided to show him to an expert.
Let him decide whether to leave Rafał in the music center of Nakło or make him start studies seriously.

Who has a casual acquaintance at music school in Bydgoszcz? Who will offer advice?
Mrs. Blechacz's colleague knew a teacher who works at music school in Bydgoszcz.
The whole family went to her.

It was a horrible day. Rafał remembered it and parents too.
Mrs. Blechacz was pregnant in the midst of summer on a weekday.

Rafał was up some mischief, got a smack and very much downhearted.

-It's better for you not to write about it
because people will think that the Blechaczes beat the child but it isn't true.
It was only scolding- says Mrs. Blechacz.

Teacher didn't order him to play but she wanted Rafal to talk about this day.
What happened today?

Rafał cannot lie, didn't want to and kept silent.
She touched keys and asked -What's this sound?
He answered sluggishly.

-So show me how a bird sings.- she asked.

She advised Rafał's parents to leave him in peace
but if they want to teach their son music, it is not in the center of Nakło but at a good private teacher.

Rafał's father heard of Halina Zalewska in Bydgoszcz. It is a good choice.

Father - I didn't know about it.
They came back home. Krzysztof Blechacz sat down by piano and touched a key.

-Rafał, tell me what's the name of this sound?

-"C"- he answered running in the room.

-I touched next and the next.
Rafał was running in the room, turned back to the piano and answered without mistakes.

-I touched two sounds, he answered correctly, then chords, he answered right.
Then seven at the same time, all dissonances, difficult to recognize.

-He recognized all.
The absolute hearing.
For me, it was a signal that one should educate him.

-Talent?

-No.
Krzysztof Blechacz is prudent, cautious in words.

- At that time, I didn't know it yet.
I only had a conviction that such a hearing ability cannot be missed.

Alina Zalejska: I sat with him longer.

She formed professionally his hand. She taught him good reading notes and a bass clef.

-He learned fast.
He made progress from one lesson to other,
so you had to change in short time his program in order for him not to be bored.

Dad brought Rafał to Bydgoszcz on a small car twice a week on Wednesday and Saturday for two school hours.
During the lessons, dad was sitting on the sofa and listening or working. He was an insurer.

-I told him that Rafał is gifted and he ought to learn in music school
where he could perfom for public and have confrontation with other children.

One year later, Zalejska increased fees of lesson
then they went to her with a big bunch of flowers and thanked her.

It is 1993.
Rafał is 8 years old.

Jacek Polanski - I loved him.
-Fryderyc-Jacek Polanski talks about him.

Polanski was one of two Rafał's teachers at the music school in Bydgoszcz.
He taught playing on piano and Anna Szarpka other subjects.
He taught him for seven years on every Tuesday since 9:00 until 12:30 or 13:00.

-It was sacred time for Rafał.
Dad was sitting, reading his documents and they were playing, talking, joking.

Rafał talked about his jokes:
for example, he closed wardrobe with him and his sister in and their parents were looking for them.
Like Fryderyc Chopin.
That he was riding on bicycle along the corridor that was 17.5 m long.

Or when the family went to the uncle in Torun, the uncle locked the piano so that Rafał took rest for a moment.

Rafał practiced four or five hours a day.
The lesson ought not to be like "Good morning", and we sit down and play according to Jacek Polanski.

-You must talk about painting, arts, what you listened to,
what you are interested in and which book you should read.

Prof.is an oversensitive man, fast, violent quite different from Mr. Blechacz.
So it is hard to imagine both being together.
Mr. Blechacz is a hard worker and the numbers must match to the third decimal,
while Mr. Polanski is an artist with vivid imagination, impulsive.

He told Rafałl,

- You don't listen to parents so that they don't know
that we will together conquer the world.

He gave Rafał three portraits of Chopin, Beethoven and "Chopin at prince Radziwill".
They hang on the wall of Rafał's room.



The real teacher, in Polanski's opinion, must excite beauty in pupil and thirst for cognition of this beauty.
Mozart said:

-As you can't reach with fingers, use your nose.
If you have beauty inside yourself, then your hands will hear and follow your imagination.

- A year later, I went with him to Warsaw, when he received first awards at once.
When I went with him to Gorzów on piano competition he received the whole prizes, all. It was "Entrance of dragon".

Is education of this pupil a dream for an educator?
Yes, if you think about effects.
No, if you summarize number of hours spent for him, much stress with his public performances
while thinking about what's next.

The paper of Nakło gave title "Rafał like Amadeus"; and "Is he Chopin of Nakło?"

-I loved him - said Polanski with bitterness in his voice.-and they took him to me.
There was no intrigue. The change of teacher was necessary for development of Rafał.

Anna Szarapka: He wanted to know all about Chopin.

-For one month Rafał was going on rhythmic with a group together.
But he did not fit well for the group, he learnt too fast.
I taught the whole subjects: education of hearing, music broadcast and music principle, history of music.
The management of school made a decision that Rafał will have an individual course of education.

In 1993, Anna Szarapka was several years after her studies.
-I felt a big burden. Responsibility, how to help him to develop?

He recognised all the sounds, even those scattered on the keyboard,
but it wasn't matter to him whether it is a sharp or flat, whether it is fis or ges, because it is the same sound.
He therefore had to learn music language, tonal principle.
He didn't understand that it was important.
Another problem was recognition of intervals.
So he practiced much exercises, many pages of exercises at home.
She played him fugue of Bach and he wrote down melody line of top and lower sounds.
Children of his age were not able to do it.
He has done it and two weeks later, he brought her another one composed by himself.
He said that this music was deeply into himself, but he wasn't able to transfer it on the paper.

So she began teaching him composition.
He composed a piano trio, then sonata.
They were not innovative compositions but he wrote music that he was playing at this moment with some modifications.

The school started a one year course of composition for him by finding a sponsor.

- I tried so that he would know the different style of music since the Middle Ages, know how to recognize them.

I brought the records, we were listening to and analyzing them.
Mozart, Lutosławsky, Debussy, Penderecki.

When he started fascinated by Zimerman, I bought him his record.
He would like to know everything about Chopin, she gave him big book by Tomaszewski very penetrating.
Both her family and Rafał's went to philharmonic and opera.
She taught Rafał for eight years.

Municipal government of Nakło

I was walking trough the streets of Nakło and telling everyone
that a man of music genius was growing here

-recalls priest Andrzejczak.

He persuaded all that they should help Blechacz’s family.
Rafał went to secondary school for only a month.
A lot of lessons and a little time to practice.

Government of Nakło gave grant for individual education.
Teachers of all subjects came to his home every day from Monday to Friday
so he had time to play.

-They invested in me and I am very grateful for that - says Rafał.
- It was a very comfortable arrangement.
He went to school to take tests in Polish.
- It was even fun as I kept in contact with friends.- says Rafał.
He took exam for the certificate of secondary school education.
He passed the exam with a fair score.

Priest Andrzejczak. They closed their notes.

It is in 2005. Rafał is 20 years old.
Priest Andrzejczak was sitting behind the jury on concert in philharmonic.
Magnificent place, thank God.

It was Friday. There were three pianists.
The jurors wrote something constantly in their notes.
First, Russian Andrey Yaroshinsky played- they wrote,
then Korean Dong Min Lim - they wrote.

Finally appeared Rafał, sat at the piano
and when the first bars of concerto in E minor sounded,
the jurors no longer wrote, closed notes; they loved to listen to him.

Krystian Zimerman: The letter
Rafał got a letter from New York City:
"Recalling myself, it was 30 years ago.
Now I understand you more than you".
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