By Osa-Mbonu Amadi

On April 11, 2019, I read a post on Facebook which generated a big controversy among up to 200 commentators. The post read: “Steal a man’s wallet and he will be poor for a week. Teach him music and how to (play an) instrument and he will be poor his entire lifetime.”

Many people argued that someone who learned music and how to play a musical instrument may be poor outwardly, but inwardly, he is very rich. Others completely rejected the post, saying that nobody who learned music and knows how to play a musical instrument well can be poor both inwardly and outwardly.

The post and the comments got me thinking deeply. Since the person who made the post bears the name, Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the greatest classical musicians in history, my mind first went to another great classical musician, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died as a pauper. In fact, Mozart died of hunger and cold.

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One day, Mozart felt so cold and had no money to buy coal to heat up his room. So he resorted to playing his musical instrument and dancing to keep his body warm. As I said before, Mozart and many musicians of his age died poor. But today, many recording companies and pianists have become fantastically rich with the music of Mozart.

The Facebook post also reminded me of a certain naval officer I once met at a naval base in Apapa Lagos when I came to Lagos newly after I graduated from the university. Due to my incompetence in using the piano to accompany songs extempore, a certain friend had introduced me to a naval officer in charge of the naval music band in Apapa naval base.

After I met the naval officer, a very kind man, and explained my problem to him, he immediately called one of his men who played in the naval band and gave him an order: “This man here is a classical musician and a pianist but he doesn’t know how to accompany pop and those types of songs you people like to play and dance in the church. Go and take the electronic piano from the store and start teaching him. He will be coming here every day for the lessons.”

The man saluted his boss and took me out of his office. We went to the store together, brought out the piano and set it up. I noticed that the man who was instructed to teach me was not happy with the assignment. Could it be that he was reluctant to carry out his boss’ order because it had no financial benefit? I decided to be appreciating him financially as we went on. But I discovered that the man’s problem was not money.

After setting up the piano he asked whether he could speak with me. I said “very well.”

“Sir,” he began, “I want to advise you, but I don’t know whether my advice will go down well with you, or whether you will take it.”

“There is no piece of advice that won’t go down well with me,” I said, “but I can’t decide whether I will take it or not until I hear you out.”

“Ok. Sir, I want to advise you to go and find something else to do with your life and leave this piano. This piano makes people poor. It is this piano that made me poor as I am now. Oga, I don tell you now o,” the man who was supposed to be my teacher told me.

I was shocked. I just stood there looking at him in horror. How could anyone speak so dismally and discouragingly about his profession and means of livelihood? Where, in this man, is ‘the love for what you do’ which I have often heard and read about in books? I love music and the piano, even though I had made little or no money from it as at then.

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“I love music and the piano,” I verbalized my thought. It was a mistake, for I realized it made him angrier.

“Please let us start because I have other important things to do,” he said running the scale of F major on the keys. And he played the scale so well. Upon finding that the table where he had set up the piano was too low, he disconnected it and flung it roughly onto a higher table. His manner horrified me, automatically shutting down several faculties in my brain.

As a result of his despondency and defeatist attitude towards his profession, music and the piano I never returned after that day. It was like an infectious disease and I knew how dangerous it was to hang around him. He would surely poison even the most creative mind and kill the biggest dream anyone could have. It was his music skill that got him the job as a musician in the naval band and I couldn’t stop wondering why he didn’t have even the tiniest grain of gratitude to God for his music talent.

I quite understand that taking to the arts generally, not only music, is a precarious way of earning a living. Sometimes the artist may not know where his or her next meal would be coming from. And I had seen a lot of days like that in my career as a piano teacher, especially after I left teaching in school.

I remember one of those periods when I lost all my expatriates students. From day to day I sat alone in my large apartment thinking of how I was going to pay my house rent which was due. It was within that time that I ran into Glory at Agboju, Lagos after about five years. She said she lived near the Agboju bus stop. She looked more beautiful than before. I visited her and started talking to her again about marriage.

She still gave me the same condition she had given me five years ago – return to Christ, your first love. She didn’t mind my occupation as a teacher, or the fact that I did not have a car – just return to Christ. Well, I did and by December 7, 2002, we got wedded. By September 26, 2003 she gave birth to our son, Ebuka, then Osita (2005) and Muna (2012) – three boys in all, and we were done.

While Glory was pregnant with Ebuka, everything had opened up for me again and I met one of the biggest clients I ever taught the piano – Mr. Klaus P. Waschmut, the German Managing Director of Nestle Nigeria Plc. I thought Mr. Waschmut, his wife, Christy, his daughter, Leah, and later his son, David until they left Nigeria in 2008.

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