Peter Siebert, A Remembrance

It’s a cruel world; don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. Peter Siebert was, by any measure except commercial success, one hell of a piano player. I don’t know anyone who practiced longer or with more iron-willed determination than Peter. He made every moment at the keyboard count. His authority was evident to anyone who heard him play. He was a white master at the keys.Peter passed on his knowledge and love of the instrument by teaching. He was an instructor of jazz piano for a while at the Orange County High School of the Performing Arts and had a loyal private practice. He instilled a love of music in my children that previous piano teachers had tried their best to beat out of them. Peter introduced my kids to joys of Chopin and Al Green with equal enthusiasm. If you didn’t know or appreciate either composer before, you’d instantly fall in love with them after hearing to Peter play one of their compositions.

As a teacher, Peter wasn’t strict. When other activities impinged on my kid’s ability to practice, Peter always understood. He knew that for most of his students, there was a wide range of valuable and necessary experiences to be had beyond the keyboard, although I doubt that was true for Peter. For Peter, there was nothing more important than those 88 keys. But his laid-back teaching style in no way meant he didn’t care. He would listen intently to each of his student’s attempts at a jazz solo and when they hit a clinker, he would wince and shout, “Ohhh!” with the intensity of someone who’s just had a cement block dropped on their foot. We spent many a drive home, pretending to play the piano, hitting a clunker and then wincing like Peter and shouting, “Ohhh!” “Ohhh!” “Ohhh!” And we’d laugh and laugh.

We have all been comforted by the assumed wisdom that dedication and perseverance are the springboards to success. If that were only true this remembrance would be in the New York Times and not on my little read blog. Peter deserved a wider audience. Peter deserved better gigs. Peter deserved at least a bit of acclaim. He should have been somebody. He deserved it.

I failed Peter horribly. Over the last year of his life, I watched as his health dramatically declined, like he was one of those before and after crack addiction photos. He went from a vibrant man in his early 50s to someone that had trouble keeping his balance walking up the few steps to our home. I repeatedly asked him if everything was OK, which it clearly wasn’t, and he would offer up one excuse or another. I shared with my wife that maybe it was drugs that were sucking the life out of him. I even made plans with my son and a mutual friend to stop by his house and intervene in any way we could. When we arrived a couple of weeks later, we learned Peter was dead. Instead of asking him if everything was OK, I should have thrown him in my car and taken him to the hospital. Perhaps if I did, he would be alive today. I will never make that mistake again. Better to intercede when help isn’t wanted, than not to intercede at all. Turned out, drugs had nothing to do with Peter’s demise. He had serious health problems and he lacked the money or, perhaps more likely, the will to get to the bottom of them. Was it the realization that he would never achieve all he had devoted his life to achieving that killed him? I believe he died, as the song goes, depressed on a boulevard of broken dreams.

Peter touched us all. Even a year after his passing, my wife still tears up whenever our kids play Your Song or Let It Be. When my son grabs the folder of sheet music Peter gave him, which he still holds so important and dear he refers to as his Bible, he sometimes cries too. God bless you, Peter. At least around our house, you will never be forgotten. You certainly deserve that.