Lubomyr Melnyk, a pianist and composer, was born in 1948 in Munich in the Ukrainian family. In a while, his family moved to Winnipeg, Canada. Besides music, he studied philosophy and Latin at the university. Melnyk is world-known for his fast piano playing technique. He is an author of a “continuous music”. The musician can play 19, 5 notes on each hand every second. Lubomyr set this record in 1985. He also set the record of the biggest note number played in an hour with an average speed of 13 or 14 notes on each hand every second. The pianist is now on the world tour to commemorate his 70th Anniversary.
It was a conversation about philosophy, culture, music, time and that people have no future. It was a conversation with the person who had changed himself to show that everyone could change. They just need to desire it.
Our conversation with Lubomyr Melnyk, a pianist and composer, resembled a pendulum. In the beginning, we were pendulating, and then – flying in a dialogue sky.
The first thing I was interested in was a continuous music technique, Melnyk`s speed records and his philosophy background (he studied Philosophy in college and while doing his research degree), his views on a modern music. Lubomyr Melnyk was born in Germany, grew up in Canada, is living and travelling across the world. But he always mentions that he is a Ukrainian. That’s why we started our interview with Ukraine.
You are inspired by and proud of the Ukrainian culture. What place does Ukrainian music have in your life? Do you use any local melodies for your music, in particular melodies of different regions?
I can’t say I choose something particular in Ukrainian music. I eat it like soup because it is food for my soul. I don’t separate the Ukrainian music according to regions because I feel the whole Ukraine as a part of my heart and spirit. Thank God, I am Ukrainian, it is the best feeling for me. One girl asked me whether Ukrainian music was a part of my piano playing. I must say that obviously, yes. Not only the music but the technique, the continuous music technique, is something that has never existed apart from me. It is very connected with such mental and physical practices as Kung-Fu, Thai Chi, Cossack magic. If I weren’t a Ukrainian, I would have never found this music and couldn’t play it. It is a unique physical technique which is different from others. I know what I am talking about because I play classical music as well. But I want Ukrainians to know that our nation gave birth to continuous music. And it is not a coincidence. No, it is all connected, this music exists via Ukraine.
You mean that you took the idea of the continuous music from Ukrainian culture? Were there any other philosophical schools, ideas which influenced you?
Yes, there were some. But this music has hundreds and thousands of details which have changed since I was born until this music and the technique were born. We are together and the technique doesn’t separate fingers and music. It took me 23 years, and everything which had happened before me prepared me that this music had to come to the world via me. It is all my life. If I disappear, my music also will do.
In 2014 in the interview for AFP, you said that piano had been created 300 years before, and it didn’t change, Scarlatti played it the same as later Rachmaninov did, and now modern musicians play. And it is intimidating for you to think that you are the last who plays it differently. Has your attitude changed?
No. I can see the same problem. But I have hope… This music is so beautiful to hear it, to play it. I try to tell about it to other pianists, but they don’t want to hear and understand that playing a continuous music is a physical and mental joy. It is as easy as breathing. It can seem hard, but it is not. Nothing is hard. I used to be into Thai Chi, and due to this practice, I learnt to play very fast. Such playing changes my body. My hands and fingers are not as ones of concert pianists. I know that concert pianists extremely worry before any concert because they can’t make a mistake! It is awful! People should worship them (laughs) because they experience extreme emotions before a concert. While playing continuous music, you don’t have to be so patient, it is different, easy and pleasant. A body changes and everything becomes simple. At first, it seems impossible, maybe it is for someone. But you can learn it in a month. You see, playing the piano is moving your muscles. Playing continuous music is extremely complicated. Finally, muscles have to disappear. And only then, you can do something because muscles don’t interfere. But we, pianists, unfortunately, feel our muscles, we control them. Finally, in a couple of months, I was able to play what I hadn’t been able to play before because the muscles which interfered, disappeared. This is the way a pianist has to follow, gradually getting rid of muscles so nothing is left in hands.
We can say that classical pianists are like mathematicians who follow notes like numbers.
Yes, but they also create beauty, they feel the music. I mean they are not that mechanical. But their technique is different. It is pleasant to play continuous music. It is like you turn “auto” mode on and just follow it. I give a key to my body and it turns on, plays, fingers move, I don’t think, it just moves automatically.
Maybe, it is kind of stream of consciousness.
Almost (laughs). It is not that hard. It is like you have a nice car, a Mercedes, which drives almost by itself. You get into it, it is quiet inside, you don’t feel an engine. All my cars are old so I can feel well their engines are on (laughs). And while playing continuous music, you don’t even feel an engine, anything at all, you feel like flying up in the sky.
Anyway, you need much money to afford a Mercedes or be sure that you will provide it with an appropriate maintenance. Is it so with music as well? Before dealing with a newly advanced appliance, you need to realise that you will be able to play it, to treat it appropriately.
I don’t even know. I think that classical music is hard to play. Even for all concert pianists. There, you have to play an hour or even half an hour, and you can’t make a mistake. You know, sometimes I make a mistake at a concert but I won’t complain. I can screw up my face and say to myself “Oh no!” but I am not afraid that people will blame me like “What an awful pianist, he made such a mistake! We won’t ever listen to you again!” It is a real problem in classical music. I meant it if a person can play all those sonatas and concerts, let him make a mistake. Let mistakes happen, there is no life without mistakes.
People’s mistakes prove people are alive.
Exactly so, we are not machines.
You are an author of fast playing records. Officially, 19,5 notes in a second. Is it possible to play faster?
I don’t know. I guess no. Because playing that fast, I already feel that notes sound the same, it is not their natural speed. If it were possible physically, I can’t see such a process. There are limits. The highest speed in classical music a good pianist can provide is 13-14 notes on each hand every second. It is very fast. Extremely. But a person can hear it very distinctively. The speed I can provide is difficult for an ear to perceive. It is an all-around speed. And people have to understand that it is time, and time depends on people. If people disappear, so does the time. People don’t understand it. Scientists have befooled them. They think that time exists without any beginning and ending, that time was before space and it will exist after it. It is a lie. Not only time won’t outlast space, but it also won’t outlast us. When the last person disappears, so will the time. Time is created so our body could work. Time exists so we could be born, eat, drink, pray, dance, look at the sly (laughs) and die.
Is time a production of our mind?
No, no. Time is connected not with our soul but with our body. When a body dies, time disappears.
I know nothing for sure. I live here and just know. Yes, people will say, “What is this old man saying?!” But I just know. What I do on a piano, nobody did before me. Because it is impossible to do it physically. It is something like a miracle. I don’t boast, God gave me this possibility. It is not me, it is not me who did it. I don’t wear a special royal dress and say that “I am the piano king because I do it.” No, it is all a gift from God. And I do it. People don’t understand that it all – from my spirit to fingers on keys and those sounds – is a whole life.
You mean that continuous music goes through some evolution?
No, it is something which happened exactly to a piano. My life is very sad and happy at once. Sad because the classical music world doesn’t want to understand what it is. They still think that we have to listen to Scarlatti and Beethoven, all modern pianists because that is how a piano sounds. But that’s not how it sounds. It is how it cries. A piano doesn’t want to do it. They made it do it. Music is beautiful, it’s true, but a piano cries. A violin sings because this is its voice. A piano, if you play Beethoven’s concert, is like a miserable horse which has to carry that heavy cargo and think, “When will I finally finish, I have wings, I want to fly!” And finally, Lubomyr Melnyk came and found that a piano had wings, that it could fly, sing and go up in the sky and fly freely there. For example, if we or God, or anyone else took a plane, Boeing 737 for example, a pilot, made a take-off runway and put it all in Italy in 1535. Would it take off? Everybody says that, perhaps, yes. It has everything, it isn’t lack of anything. And I say it won’t take off. It won’t be able. Because it flies only now.
Do you mean that your music is the music of the future?
I don’t know whether the world will exist. I don’t know. Europe is so dumb, America is so dumb that they don’t see that they are killing the world. Because of their bluntness. You know, there is nothing worse than an intelligent person who is dumb as a tree. There are stupid people and we can forgive them that they are dumb. But when a person is intelligent and is able to think, but acts like a fool. It is like when an intelligent person drives a car, sees that the engine is on fire, and the person thinks, “I will extinguish it with a petrol, it will help.” It is exactly what those intelligent people do. Our world is going to end. When a world ocean increases two levels more, we will die. Those scientists don’t think why all that is happening. They think how they can earn money on that. A government says, “Make up a reason for us. And we have to earn money on that.” And scientists make up something – you made 10 steps or 20 meters from your house and this is it, seas are heating, the sky is heating because of it. And everyone who wants to go further has to pay money because they cause an ecological harm. And all people will pay to cover 50 or 100 meters. And scientists will say if you don’t believe, we can show you researches, books where sea heating is proved. But a real reason is evident, it shines in their faces. But they don’t want to see it, instead, they think how to earn money. They don’t think about rescuing people. The people who have a PhD degree, they are dumb. You know why? Because they think if another PhD said that the sky was green and made of stones, it is really so. Deep in their bones, they know it is not true, but that scientist said so. And they will repeat that like monkeys. When scientists make a mistake, they say it has to be so. And in eight years, someone will say, “Listen, it was a mistake!”
And then, that scientist will get a PhD, and will be cited, won’t they?
Exactly so. That’s why I say I don’t know whether the world will exist.
When you played continuous music for the first time, what were your thoughts?
You know, it is not the thing which came once, and I played it. It appeared gradually. It took several months, two or four. But I began playing it, it was getting bigger, I started to feel it and worked more and more. Until I realised that was it.
Tell about that moment!
I was very afraid because I felt my body was changing. I didn’t feel my fingers. A cup of coffee was in my hands, and I dropped it suddenly. Because my fingers became very relaxed. And I had to focus that I was holding something in hands.
Someone slightly opened the door to Lubomyr’s green room and called him for a rehearsal. We had some phrases more about philosophy and philosophers and agreed that there were many ideas but we took them from the same dimension. That’s why we can sometimes think alike. But everybody has to think.
Text and photo by Maxym Kozmenko