Appoggiaturas and Donating Stem Cells

On a Friday night, I received an email from the pianist Emily Sun. Her lymphoma had returned for the second time, and now, to live, she needed stem cells. The donor could be from anywhere in the world, but should be of Asian descent: Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Vietnamese, or Singaporean.

“My son loves piano. We have bonded over playing it every morning,” Emily wrote to me. “I’m sorry to cry out into cyberspace but I don’t know what else to do. I have been given a chance to live if only I can find a stem cell donor. Just so many obstacles in the way… and uncertainty.”

In my throat, I had a choking feeling. I had never met Emily in person, but I felt close to her. She was one of my first readers when I launched the blog that grew into this online magazine. Later, when she was in remission, we profiled her in an article, “Fighting Cancer with Classical Piano Music.” In the accompanying video of selections from Beethoven and Schumann, she occasionally broke off, apologizing for her technique. The chemotherapy had frazzled the nerves in her fingers.

Intertwined in our encounter was the euphoric hope I often feel at the piano. Surely Emily, with her love of the piano, would recover from her cancer. Now at the news of her relapse, the choking feeling in my throat felt overwhelming.

I pushed away from my desk. At the piano, I made my way through the second movement of Schubert’s Sonata in A Major. The movement is an ingenious string of repeated appoggiaturas, over and over the dissonance of the chords resolving with a change in a single note. Yet I could not seem to extract from the appoggiaturas my usual feeling of reconciliation.

I could not fathom Emily’s situation. Dying young terrified me, for missing the chance to experience the world, for all the piano music I would leave behind, untouched and unknown, but most of all because my husband and children would be left without me, bereft. My fingers dug into the keys: Emily’s son, only five years old. She had received her first diagnosis when Luke was three, so that for almost half his life, his mother had been ill.

Across the room, my computer monitor stared at me with an insistent bluish light. On the screen was the home page for this online magazine, Grand Piano Passion™. The appoggiaturas rung around me.  I hoped that by writing about how the piano transforms peoples’ lives, I could create some small goodness in the world.

Midway through one of the appoggiaturas, I sprang up from the piano. At the computer, I prayed for inspiration. “Don’t give up hope,” I wrote to Emily, “You do have a lot of uncertainty and anguish yet you also have hope.” I told her I would reach out to my friends for help in finding a stem cell donor of Asian descent. I offered to post on my Facebook page about her desperate need for stem cells. I promised her I would write this article.

The appoggiatura, the lovely, long, multisyllabic Italian term hinting at the richness of life, its terrifying dissonances, its moments of harmony. A few minutes after I sent my email, I received Emily’s reply thanking me. She finished with one word: Hope.

Visit Emily’s website,, for more information about how to help.
Here is Emily playing excerpts from Beethoven’s Pathetique, Schumann’s Concerto in A Minor, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C Minor, and Mozart’s Ronda Alla Turca.

Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.

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