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A pianist’s journey from tragedy to playing with the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra

Norman with score and hand.jpg
Courtesy of
/
Kartemquin Films
At 78, left-handed pianist Norman Malone made his orchestral debut with the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2016. The pianist returns to West Hartford this weekend for a screening of the documentary “For the Left Hand,” produced by Kartemquin Films.

In 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing left-handed pianist Norman Malone. The then-78-year-old musician was in Connecticut, preparing for his orchestral debut with the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Malone returns to West Hartford Sunday for a discussion and the screening of a new documentary “For the Left Hand.”

Norman’s story is both tragic and uplifting. Growing up in Chicago, Malone was drawn to music and started to play piano at the age of 5. But dreams of a music career had to take a backseat after he and his siblings were attacked by their father with a hammer when Malone was 10, leaving him temporarily paralyzed. His father later committed suicide. Malone spent years relearning how to walk, talk, read and write, but he never regained use of his right arm.

Malone went on to a successful career as a high school choir teacher. What his students never realized is that for years, in his spare time, Malone was working on one of the hardest pieces in the piano repertoire — Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.”

Malone’s life and obsession with the work by Ravel caught the attention of the Chicago Tribune, which did a feature story on the retired musician. Pretty soon, offers started coming in, asking Malone to play recitals of piano music written specifically for the left hand. Malone obliged, but no orchestra had come forward to hire him to play the Ravel. That is, until Richard Chiarappa, music director of the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra, sent Malone an email to see if there was any interest in doing the work with his symphony. Malone eventually agreed.

Norman at piano.jpg
Courtesy of
/
Kartemquin Films
At 78, left-handed pianist Norman Malone made his orchestral debut with the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2016. The pianist returns to West Hartford this weekend for a screening of the documentary “For the Left Hand,” produced by Kartemquin Films.

His 2016 orchestral debut with the WHSO was chronicled by a crew from Kartemquin Films. The end result is “For the Left Hand,” a documentary that focuses on Norman Malone’s life and his ultimate performance of Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand” with the WHSO.

Malone and the makers of “For the Left Hand” will take part in a screening of the documentary as well as a discussion sponsored by the West Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford. The WHSO will also perform works by Russian composer Alexander Borodin.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”