Luke Welch

The Day Practicing the Piano Saved Someone’s Life

So this incident took place way back in November, 2019 at a time when travelling, socializing, and interpersonal human interaction was still a thing:

I was extremely excited to be back in Vancouver, British Columbia – the beloved “Left Coast” of Canada – for my second visit and concert tour around the province. After flying in from Toronto, my performance schedule started in Lake Country – a beautiful district in the Kelowna region – before making my way back to Vancouver. I was in the big city for the duration of my stay, aside from a brief excursion to nearby Abbotsford for a delightful midday performance.

It was when I had returned to Vancouver that I realized I had a couple of free days in between concerts, which became the perfect opportunity to practice and prepare for the final set of performances. However, as is often the conundrum pianists find themselves in when travelling abroad, I didn’t have access to an instrument or any means to indulge my musical desires. With a quick Google search, I was able to locate a number of pianos scattered around the city which were available to the public – music indeed to my ears!

The piano I targeted was not far from where I was staying, so off I ventured in search of this public instrument located near the Waterfront. When I arrived, I realized this big, blue grand piano was located in the alcove of a small shopping plaza which was decorated with a few stores, a basketball court, some modestly scattered seating. Thankfully, though there were what looked to be some local shoppers and regular gatherers sitting around chatting, the piano sat unused so I tentatively opened the lid of the piano – with a skeptical-looking security guard keeping a close eye on my actions – sat down and began to play.

With a skeptical-looking security guard keeping a close eye on my actions – I sat down and began to play.

Me at the Public Piano in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Five minutes turned into ten, ten minutes into half an hour, and as I looked around the security guard now looked quite relaxed and entertained, while a small audience congregating to enjoy the impromptu concert. Fueled by the onlookers I continued to play, starting with Scarlatti and onto Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel, Schubert and more. As about an hour passed, I was in the middle of a Mozart sonata (K. 310, for anyone interested), when a man in a high visibility vest – the ones construction workers wear – approached me.

The man began the conversation by complimenting my playing and expressing his interest in classical music. “Hi, you play really well!” said the man. “Thank you very much!” I replied, at which point he introduces himself as Paul (I’ve used another name to protect his privacy). At first, our chat seemed both innocent and innocuous – discussing our favourite composers, explaining why I am British Columbia and practicing on that piano, and other lighthearted banter. Things seemed to wind down eventually, and he politely excused himself by wishing me well as he was about to continue on with his day. As he walked away, I went back to playing the final movements of the Mozart sonata and put the encounter out of my mind.

Fast forward about ten minutes, and the man was back – much to my surprise and confusion. As he quietly and deliberately bee-lined straight for me, I figured he was back to listen to more – or perhaps inquire about where I might be performing later that day. Instead, he decided to strike up a conversation for the second time before abruptly mentioning that he was actually on the way to ending his own life. At first, being so caught so off guard by what he just said, I tried to rationalize in my own head that he might have been joking considering that a) we had only just met, and b) I had never heard of someone preemptively divulging their despondent intentions.

I had never heard of someone preemptively divulging their despondent intentions.

As I continue to process what was unfolding, I could see that he was being entirely serious – mentioning that instead of going to work, “today is the day he is going to jump off a bridge” and that “his mother is definitely not going to be happy with him for doing so.” While he continues his confession, he began to cry at which point I finally embrace the magnitude of the situation. Needless to say, I was absolutely stunned and completely taken aback by the situation. I have never found myself in such precarious circumstances, and despite a lack of pertinent qualifications to rely on I refuse to outwardly reflect my inner conflict to avoid exacerbating the situation any further.

Instead, I respond by reiterating his mother’s feelings – a lady whom I have obviously never met, yet one I can only assume he is very close to if he felt the need to mention her specifically. “You’re right, she will miss you immensely,” I replied. “She obviously loves you dearly, as I’m sure many people do and would forever carry a heavy heart if you do what you say you plan to do.

“I’ve just met you and I can also say that I love you too, my friend,” I continued. “I’m sure there are many others out there who feel the same way and love you dearly. More than anything else, you need to remember that you’re not alone and there are so many others out there who care about you.”

As we continued to talk over the next twenty or so minutes, the conviction in his voice seemed to slowly waver. In spite of him never articulating what it was that had bothered him so greatly, and my conscious effort to not pry, it had sounded as though he had been contemplating this decision for quite some time and the inner conflict he was battling was visible. I did my absolute best to remind him that his friends, family, and the world needs much more Paul. Even though in hindsight it sounds completely ridiculous, I actually decided to invite him to my performance taking place later that evening, though he politely declined due to other engagements.

Eventually Paul reneged, and made it clear he no longer had downcast intentions. As he left for the second time, he thanked me for listening and wished me well in my performance. Watching him walk out those doors was one of the most difficult and surreal experiences in my life as I really had no way of knowing if he wouldn’t change his mind yet again…

Watching him walk out those doors was one of the most difficult and surreal experiences in my life as I really had no way of knowing if he wouldn’t change his mind yet again…

Cambie Street Bridge in Vancouver, BC, Canada

I watched the news that evening, as I did again the following day with no mention of Paul or incidents involving bridges to report. Eventually my nerves did calm down a bit as my West Coast concerts finished with just one day to go before my flight back to Toronto. As is often the case when I am on the road, I decided to go shopping so after grabbing lunch and picking up a few souvenirs, I decided to head back to my hotel to pack for the trip home. As I walked through the shopping centre to head back to my hotel, I passed by a familiar face who was walking in the opposite direction. Though I didn’t recognize the person at first, I realized it was strange to consider any face at all familiar since I don’t know anyone in Vancouver. It then dawned me as I continued up the escalator towards another exit that the familiar face was one and the same: my dear friend Paul.

I raced back down the escalator and through the exit closest to where I anticipated he must have left. I decided to turn right, incidentally towards the area of our first encounter, and lo and behold I could see him a few paces ahead. I called out his name and he turned around – a moment of hesitation before recognizing me and greeting me with a smile. With ice skates slung over his shoulder, it turns out that he was just on his way home to get ready for hockey practice and we excitedly catch up. Without ever discussing our first encounter directly – save for me asking him in general how he’s doing and him asking me about how my concerts went – we chatted for a good while on the street corner before saying an extended, lengthy farewell as we went our separate ways.

I was ecstatic to see him, to say the very least. It was the picture-perfect ending to what was another wonderful visit to the Left Coast of Canada, and I hope that when the pandemic finally finds itself in the rear view mirror I can visit that part of the country again. My fingers are crossed to bump into Paul once again and until then I wish him nothing but the absolute best.

Until now, I have only shared this story to family and close friends (as well as the concert promoters who hosted my performances around the time of this experience). Right now, we are all caught in the middle of a global pandemic, with many of us forced to stay home while others find themselves in isolation. I want to reiterate to everyone that they are not alone. There are people out there who care about them, whether their own families, neighbours, friends, and people they have yet to meet who are excited for that very moment and I encourage you to reach out at every opportunity. We are all in this journey of life together.

Stay safe, everyone, and thanks for reading!

– LW




One comment on “The Day Practicing the Piano Saved Someone’s Life

  • Brenda says:

    Luke, your story brought tears to my eyes. Bless you for taking time to show such compassion and caring to a fellow human who obviously needed it so desperately. You changed not only his life but also his loved ones.

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Arts Award Recipient: 2018

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