When Geoffrey Rush played an autistic pianist, I wonder if he meant it. If he performed it with a passion, with nothing less than his whole being. Saying that, I’ve never seen the movie, but it won an Oscar or something like that.
I wonder if I had seen the movie, it would have been different when I meet David Helfgott. It wasn’t until the day I found out he had a mental illness, and I had trudged into work not looking forward to two hours of hearing a man tap away at his piano. I had seen some good shows during my time as an usher there, but this was just another pianist, playing all sorts of classical enlightenment, something which didn't appeal to my young mind.
When the group of us ushers meet our manager and we were given our positions for the night I didn’t begrudge that I wouldn’t be inside watching the performance. We moved inside the check the hall and he was sitting at the piano, practising in a floral printed shirt.
At first thought, his music wasn’t as hard as the usual classical musician. It didn’t have the hard pulse, the stress in each beat. It wasn’t that he seemed to play it with ease, or simpleness, but he just seemed to play it, as it was, without it having to be soft, or strong, or anything like that.
A few of us disappeared into a side room for a moment and when we came out he was standing at the edge of the stage, talking to a couple of the ushers and our manager. The rest of us joined them at the edge.
I think now, of the best way to describe my first impression of him beyond the music, but nothing comes. There’s nothing that can be picked about him, no characteristic to show who he was. He just was.
He went along the line we had formed, holding out his hand to shake and asking our names. He’d put out his right hand for the next person to take, and with his left he held it out for the person before. He always had two hands in his.
“We’re a team.” He went back along the line shaking our hands again.
We could’ve stayed there longer, but we all knew we had work to do, and as we walked out of the hall smiles broke on our faces.
We were all a bit in airs. There’s no right way to put a first impression of him than to say what happened. There was something about him, something in the way it was like he shook hands because he wanted to. Like he valued knowing you, he valued you being there. It was the feeling that was left once he had gone.
I wished now, that I would have been able to watch the whole show, but I got my small chance after the interval. I swapped briefly with one of the ushers inside and slipped in just after a piece had finished. He was standing, bowing of a sorts. He had two thumbs up and was looking each way at the people all around him. There was a smile in those thumbs.
Then he returned to the piano and began. It was that same feel that had been there when he was practising. It wasn’t like a man who had spent hours rigidly perfecting the art of each key, though he probably had. He’d stop every now and then, and then pick up again on the next set of beats. The sounds flew throughout the room as it picked up, faster, quicker notes. But it still held everything that can only be described with what wasn’t there.
I imagine when they make the CDs, they wouldn’t pick up his mumbling. It’s a pity. He’d mumble the beats; one two three, and other things that couldn’t be understood. It wasn’t loud, but sometimes it could be heard with the notes of the piano. They were together, one song, this one beautiful song.
You ask what happiness is, and what I’d have to do is push you to him. I can’t say whether he’s happy or not, but what I can say is that he’s good. I know you don’t have to shake his hand to see what’s in him. I wonder why everyone can’t be like him; then the world would be full of art and smiles.
I don’t know what was being meant when they called the movie ‘Shine.’ It doesn’t really matter, not now, not when I think about it. But when I think shine, I think of how David Helfgott shines onto everyone, and there’s happiness, and that I’d say, is all that’s good.