Maslow (of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs fame) wrote: "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself."
There’s discipline behind the music, painting and poetry of course. But there’s also freedom and inspiration and love. In Playing from the Heart a young boy, Raj, and his father have a piano that stands quietly ‘in the living room for years.’ Until Raj discovers that he is musician and that he must make music.
He plays dreamy music—and he plays it so beautifully that his father decides to hire a piano teacher. Raj learns to read music and to play recognisable tunes.
But eventually, Raj becomes tired and stops playing. He moves away from home and begins working hard. Then, when his father becomes ill, Raj returns and his father asks him to play the piano again.
Raj plays a piece he remembers, but his father asks for ‘The song without a name.’
And that’s when Raj begins to play from the heart.
There’s a song without a name in all of us. Sometimes though, like Raj, we work so hard and are so ‘diligent and focused’ that we stop making music; we stop being creative. And our ‘song’ might not be music at all. Indeed as Sir Ken Robinson said: “You can be creative in anything—in math, science, engineering, philosophy—as much as you can in music or in painting or in dance.”
Each creative moment changes the very nature of who we are, and it changes those around us (17 recharging tips here). Raj’s piano playing changes and enhances his father’s life as much as it does his own – father and son share a beautiful connection that is enhanced through growing and developing Raj’s love for music. It’s a connection that survives the business of everyday life and re-emerges to strengthen both of them in difficult times.
Playing from the Heart speaks especially to parents and adult children as it succinctly examines the relationship of a father and son.
Raj’s father is important in Raj’s life, he nurtures and cares for Raj, he notices Raj’s talents and needs, he values Raj’s contributions to their life together.
And then in turn, Raj nurtures and cares for his father. He uses those talents to comfort his father—and he is comforted himself as he plays from the heart.
Some of the beauties of this book include:
A strong and loving father-son relationship – fathers nurturing in everyday ways are tricky to find in picture books.
A reminder of the way music touches memories and hearts – both Raj’s and his father’s.
A positive balance between creativity and discipline – Raj works hard at practicing but he still finds the most beautiful music in his heart.
The promise of a return to things once loved – for so many parents who have watched a child immerse themselves in something good then simply become tired and turn away for a time.
The importance of holding fast to joy in creative pursuits – the joy Raj felt when he first played, when he first began formal lessons and when he eventually returns to playing from the heart, will speak to parents as they struggle to balance achievement with joy (in any pursuit).
Illustrations that help to convey emotion – the feelings of Raj and his father are beautifully portrayed, there’s peace, delight, loneliness, fear, worry and heart to heart connection.
Peter H Reynolds writes and illustrates beautiful picture books that will appeal to the quieter parts of a child and will tug at the heartstrings of their parents in beautiful and inspiring ways. Two of my favourites are Ish and So Few of Me:
Playing from the Heart is a book for parents of children of any age. It’s also lovely for contemplative shared moments between parent and child—a nice way to affirm the value of all creative lives because: “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.” (Dieter F Uchtdorf)