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  • Writer's pictureChris Seed

The Left-Handed Piano - "When I closed my eyes, suddenly I was playing in reverse"

My left-handed piano sets my mind free, the sounds turn into a new set of colours and the notes dance in space with a different virtuosity. I have created new pleasures, emotionally and spiritually, and feel more at one with the piano.

I use my left hand for most things, including writing a letter, throwing a ball or holding a spoon. When I speak, my left-hand makes the gestures to accompany my voice. It seems I think and breathe through my left side. My left foot laughs at my right foot which can’t kick a ball, and my left eye takes charge where to look. So where my left side leads, my right side follows.

I think there is still not enough awareness of the disadvantages left-handed people face in society, but of course things have changed - long gone are the days when left-handers were considered cursed! We are not so ridiculed in society for being clumsy, or slapped on the wrist for trying to write with the ‘wrong’ hand. But we have had to either adapt to a right-handed world, or change the world to suit our needs.

This is what I did with the piano, to have a mirror-image instrument made to allow my dominant and more dexterous left hand to take the majority of the melodic lines. But this is not the whole picture. It’s not just a physical advantage for me to play on a reversed piano. My left-handed piano sets my mind free, the sounds turn into a new set of colours and the notes dance in space with a different virtuosity. I have created new pleasures, emotionally and spiritually, and feel more at one with the piano. Not enough research has been done on how we perceive music, including where we place the sounds in space; are high notes to the right or left, are they up or down?

I remember many years ago as a student at the Royal College of Music in London, struggling with a simple piece by Mozart that had a long upper trill over an Alberti bass. Not only was the touch uneven and heavy, but I also struggled with the hand coordination. My Professor would say I had one of the best left hands in the business and asked why couldn’t my right hand mimic it? Of course I improved as an all-round pianist and achieved a degree of success in concerts and competitions, but there was always a nagging doubt that I hadn’t fulfilled my potential and the process of playing was not as natural as it could be.

During a bout of insomnia in 1995, I started to imagine what it would be like playing on a reversed piano. I remember around that time hearing Ashkenazy perform a work by Schumann that I had learned on a regular piano. When I closed my eyes in the concert, suddenly I was playing the same piece in reverse. 

It prompted me to start exploring the possibility of having a reversed piano made, but I was quickly disheartened by the financial costs involved, as well as the practical difficulties of transporting a heavy piano between venues. Then in 1996, a friend suggested I started with a fortepiano which could be hand crafted, and would also be cheaper to make. Having a frame built of wood instead of iron, it would also be much lighter than its modern counterpart. I started contacting the press to try and raise the funds through sponsorship, and gave several interviews on the radio around that time. A lead article for the London Times in March 1997 led to worldwide attention and it wasn’t long before I had the necessary funding to commission the building of the first ‘left-handed’ piano.

It took 9 months for Poletti and Tuinman Fortepiano Makers from Utrecht to finish the instrument. In that time, I programmed my electronic keyboard backwards and started to practise in reverse. I remember being surprised at how quickly I could adjust to the new layout of the keyboard, and how easy it was to read the scores ‘upside down’ - with my left hand following the notes of the treble clef, and the right hand the bass line. I started with Mozart and, although I had been used to the 'normal’ way round all my life, within a day I was playing fluently simple pieces of Classical music.

Christophe Seed with his left-handed piano

The left-handed piano was completed in 1998 and exhibited at music festivals in Bruges and London in the same year, where I gave demonstrations to a bewildered public. I also noticed that other left-handed (and ambidextrous) pianists were more adept at picking it up than the average right-handed pianist. There was a degree of humiliation for a well known (right-handed) concert pianist who couldn’t put two notes together!

The following year in 1999, I gave the launch concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and recorded my first CD in 2000 for the Olympia label.

I have travelled with my left-handed piano to many countries and even learned to tune it myself, as well as lifting it in and out of vans and onto concert platforms.

Nowadays, I perform on both my left-handed piano and a right-handed piano. I have discovered that playing in opposite directions is an advantage and has improved my all-round pianistic skills. I never get the two mixed up, although that can produce some interesting new compositions! One hand can now teach the other, suggesting fingering patterns and phrasing, now that they have the ability to copy the roles of each other precisely - my music college Professor will be smiling down from heaven at that! And there is a new independence and freedom of movement in my playing in general.

Still, my go-to instrument is the left-handed piano and it continues to feed my soul. When I sit down to play, I am at peace with the world.

Chris Seed in front of two pianos - a left-handed and a right-handed

© Chris Seed, June 2023



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