ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
On Mondays, our series This I Believe brings you short statements of person belief from well-known people and from those who are not household names, people like Mel Rusnov. Rusnov is a civil engineer from Woodbury, Connecticut, and one of the almost 10,000 people who have sent us essays. Here is our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON reporting:
Mel Rusnov heard our series, and though she was struck by stories of belief forged in hardship, she wanted to write about something that brings her happiness, that takes her outside what she calls the big gray bubble of ordinary life. This led her to a belief cultivated by her father. He was a mechanical engineer and a part-time musician who played for the love of it. Here is Mel Rusnov with her essay for This I Believe.
MEL RUSNOV reporting:
I believe in cultivating hidden talents, buried and unrelated to what we do for a living. In ordinary life, I'm a civil engineer. I make a satisfying, comfortable living working quietly in my cubicle. But in my other life, I am a pianist, bringing to life with my own hands the genius of Bach, Mozart, and Chopan. While earning my engineering degree, I worked as a waitress in the dining hall of a retirement community. One day, during a break, I discovered a piano in a meeting room.
I sat down to play a few Bach two-part inventions. Those crisp driving rhythms and harmonics flew out into the hallways. Residents, numb from Residents, numb from ceaseless easy-listening radio, tentatively peeked in, then sat to listen. Disbelieving, they saw plain, old, invisible Mel, the lunch waitress.
She plays the piano! Where did you study? How long have you played? Can you play Rachmaninoff? They no longer wanted me to quickly and quietly disappear from their dining tables. Mel, wait a minute. Who do you think was better, Gould or Horowitz? I answered Gould, and a raging debate ensued.
For over 20 years, absorbed in my engineering career, I let my musical life die, but I was always reminded of it when I'd encounter the secret creative life of others. At a holiday concert, I heard a tenor voice so glorious it brought tears to my eyes. It was the sweetest, most touching performance of Silent Night I had ever heard. This masterful voice belonged to a colleague, Steve, with whom I had worked for years, side by side in adjoining cubicles. I had narrowly defined him, and so many others, by their occupations. Since I had let myself get consumed by my job, too tired and spent for anything else, I assumed all other hard-working people had, too. But Steve's artistry reminded me of my own hidden talent.
I began to practice again, and started taking lessons from an inspiring teacher who pressures me every week to keep at it, play better, get to that next higher level. One time, feeling bold, I played a Mozart Sonata in an airport lobby, between connecting flights. People slowed down or even stopped to listen, readers looked up from their chairs. I saw smiles and heard a smattering of applause. I thought, No one smiled and clapped after my presentation on the site engineering for a new strip mall.
I believe we are more than the inhabitants of our cubicles, more than engineers or even parents, husbands and wives. I believe we are transformed and connected by the power and beauty of our creativity.
ALLISON: Civil engineer Mel Rusnov with her essay for This I Believe. If you would like to write of your personal convictions as she did, you can find out more at our website, NPR.org. Incidentally, Rusnov now practices the piano in the time between getting her son off to school and going to work. We asked if we could record her, and this is Rusnov playing Mozart's Sonata in C Major, the same piece she played in the airport Lobby.
For This I Believe I'm Jay Allison.
(Soundbite of piano solo by Mel Rusnov)