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A Gift from The Lady

Sometimes you hear a real gem on the radio. Some years ago while driving on holiday with the car radio on, I heard Aung San Suu Kyi, the then Burmese Pro-Democracy leader, give an interview to Eddie Mair on PM on Radio 4. Speaking as a piano teacher, I couldn’t get over how lucky we all were to receive such a gift of encouragement to take the chance to learn an instrument when young, and all done with such a light touch. Few presenters have Eddie Mair’s knack of creating informal conversations in which his guests feel so relaxed and able to share so much of themselves. EM certainly wasn’t prepared for the topic of piano practice to come up in this conversation but he laughed and then turned it towards what we want to do with our lives. Aung San Suu Kyi gave a brief response, all the more memorable for its simplicity.

Here’s my transcript of part of that conversation:

…EM Would you like to lead Burma?

ASSK Well, I never think of it in terms of leading Burma, but there are lots and lots of things I would like to do for Burma and I think that in order to do that we have to have a lot more influence than we are allowed now.

EM What would you have done differently in life?

ASSK Well, you know, I think I would have really paid a lot more attention to my piano teacher.

EM (laughs) Why?

ASSK No, this is true. You mustn’t laugh. It’s very important because if I had only paid more attention to my music teacher, I would play the piano much better than I do now and I would get a lot more pleasure out of it. And this is one thing that helps me relax and stop thinking about work for some time during the day.

EM How good or bad are you would you say; how would you rate yourself?

ASSK I’m bad. I’m not being modest, you know; it’s not false modesty, I’m bad, but I enjoy trying to improve myself.

EM And when people hear you play, do they say: Stop that noise!?

ASSK No, no, no, they’re all too polite, and besides it’s my house, and they can’t come into my house and say Stop that noise!

EM (laughs) Well maybe piano playing is the answer to a question that I have on my mind and whether you like it or not, some people hold you in such high regard that you are considered in almost a saintly way by some people who possibly think you can do no wrong. I wonder if you have any bad habits besides the bad piano playing.

ASSK I’m sure I have lots of bad habits, that I can’t think of one to pick out at the moment but what I would like to emphasise is that I wish people wouldn’t think of me as a saint unless, and I‘ve said this before, unless they agree with the definition of a saint which is that a saint is a sinner who goes on trying. I certainly go on trying. …

Extracted from Radio 4, PM, Monday 27 June 2011

Archie McLellan