As I am laying here on my hospital bed in the middle of what used to be my living room, waiting for the old pelvis bones to heal, I reflect about my “Alchemist Piano” studio, past and present. As the new studio is almost finished, I look back at 23 great years of my studio’s esoteric yet blooming business dedicated entirely to the Musical Arts.
It started as a modest piano studio, growing through time into a recognized music studio with an added original musical theatre for children, the Alchemist Piano Theatre. I would have never guessed…I thought that I would forever be playing Prokofiev, Bach and Papandopulo. Many years later, after the Tortured Tendon Tour, after taking new twists and turns along my musical journey, we have arrived! And it’s all good, as I say in one of my children song: It’s all good, my dear friends. The field of Music is such a wide open road, full of hidden treasures and fantastic discoveries…it’s very similar to Alchemy or, dare I say, Science.
This morning I finally ventured into my studio to play the piano for the first time since a major car accident, which left me in a wheelchair. I played Ave Maria, both Schubert’s and Bach’s. I played it on the piano, then added melodica, then my singing voice, just in parts of it, improvising singing melodies especially in Bach. It was such an exhilarating experience: to be doing music again, in my old studio, on my old Steinway, and, additionally, to be playing songs dedicated to Mother Mary, the one who watches over me both literally and spiritually.
I have a sculpture of her on my wall right in front of me, given to me by my Uncle, Capt. Z, a great man who sailed over many seas with his amazing wife, Ana Habl. The sculpture itself is a treasure, because of where it came from, not to mention all of its supernatural properties…. Being Croatian by birth, it comes to me naturally. The Virgin was implanted into my blood stream many generations ago, somewhere in the Dalmatian Coast, next to a church and a rocky field, with a beautiful vista of the sea from high above….
The Virgin is huge in the Dalmatian coast. She is one major player on the rocky slopes of hope, aspiration, longing and dreaming of Dalmatian folk. My mother goes to the pilgrimage in her native island Hvar once per year where they walk for miles and miles carrying the stunning sculpture of Mary back to its original church. Some people walk on their knees just like in Mexico where they are just as crazy about “Senora de Guadalupe” as us Croatians. It is not surprising that I got married in a small church in Houston’s colorful East End, the beautiful “Our Lady of Guadalupe.” This church reminded me so much of the Dalmatian coast churches that I am familiar with. Everybody knows about Medugorje, the place where Mother Mary appears and communicates with a select group of children, now adults. This is only a couple of hours drive from Omis, my father’s home town, and also our family’s fantastic summer place in the middle of the Croatian Coast, next to Split.
I have another sculpture, the one that I brought with me to the US from Croatia when I first came here in 1986. It’s Mestrovic’s “History of Croatians.” It’s a small replica of a large bronze sculpture decorating the front of the Law School, across from the Croatian National Theatre on Mazuranic square in Zagreb. Mestrovic created a quiet, strong, big-boned lady dressed in black, with a big black scarf on her head sitting in a yoga pose, resting her arms comfortably upon a large book. She looks kind of like a Slavic version of a Yogi. I remember naming her “Yogi-Slav Woman” and around the same time I named myself the “Texas Slav.” I call my son Johnny, Johnny-Slav sometimes, and my brother IS Stanislav, but we call him Stanko for short.
A small Mestrovic replica of ‘Yogi-Slav Woman’ always had a prominent place in my studio, and subconsciously it was a symbol of meditation, yoga, all that Zen and Buddhist stuff that I was into during the 90’s and into the 2000’s here in Houston. I was a Doctoral student at Rice University when I named myself the “Alchemist” or someone that’s dedicated to research, experimentation, someone that has chosen a spiritual path, also a teacher that’s trying to turn “lead into gold.” At that same time, in 1990, I named my piano studio “AlchemistPiano” and later named my original children’s theatre “AlchemistPianoTheatre.” One of my board members and friends wrote this about me as a part of my AlchemistPianoTheatre’s add: “Her spirit is what makes her a true alchemist in that she has the uncanny ability to transform the seemingly normal into true gold. This ability is reflected in the people she works with, inspiring a new level of confidence through music and performance!” So, for all these years, people really bought into it, this idea that I am a music guru with a gold cape and a magic stick?? A note to self: ”You’ve got to produce something good, like: Moon rocks!!” (from “SpaceWiggs” by Loreta Kovacic)
Well, it was a good word that I picked, because I still love it today, after 23 years of performance, composition and teaching as “the Alchemist.” I also love all the mysticism that surrounds the word, the colors, the imagery, words like “philosopher’s stone,” the healing crystals, the elixirs, all that alchemical symbolism, the path of discovery, healing and learning…. I have the word “Alchemist” written with gold letters at the entrance to my studio, and inside my studio there are many objects that evoke the feel of the word: the golden owl, the planets, the moon and the sun, daily meditations, the shining crystal-like hanging sculpture by my favorite artist, Hana Hillerova, etc. Even my artistic endeavors somehow manage to evoke those alchemical dreams….In recent years I especially remember my original accompaniment of Georges Melies’s “Voyage to the Moon” and other alchemy-related silent shorts that I hand-picked from his amazingly huge opus. The poster was made by the venue, Discovery Green in Houston, showing the famous picture of the moon and the rocket getting stuck in the moon’s eye. Everyone recognizes that image, and I just love it.
I can’t believe how much I love that nickname, the Alchemist, after all these years. On second thought, it does make sense, because I think that any nickname you make up for yourself is going to work better for you than the one given to you by others. I was named “Sovuljaga” or the “Ugly Owl” when I was in grade school, a name given to me by my arch nemeses. I would have preferred just “owl” because I really do love owls. They are a symbol of wisdom. My alma mater Rice University’s symbol is an owl. How appropriate! In more recent years I was named “Doc,” short for “Doctor” by my friend Duane, Houston’s public radio KPFT 90.1 manager. I like that name, it’s cute, but still, he only named me that because one time when he interviewed me I told him not to call me Doctor Kovacic. I prefer to be called by my name or the nickname I gave myself, the “Alchemist”.
I find it fascinating that there are practicing Alchemists in this world today, like Mark Stavish who says this about alchemy: “Alchemy offers us the opportunity to relieve suffering, ignorance, and fear of death through direct experience of the invisible worlds and how they relate to the physical world of matter. The alchemical path can bring us peace of mind, a positive outlook on life, increased vitality and creativity. Most importantly, alchemy helps us become better people.”
This brings me back to the beginning, how I played the piano today, uplifted myself and my family with music dedicated to Mother Mary. Today is the first day that I did not take my meds, trying to experiment, just like an Alchemist would, in an attempt to see how I do without them….I was feeling a little pain in my pelvis and lower back, but as soon as I started playing, swoooshhh!!!!–it was gone. Music, the art I love, protected by planet Venus, was doing its magic.
We musicians are alchemists because we work in the realm of the invisible which then brings us peace and joy in the visible world. Musical alchemy increases our vitality and creativity, and all of that made me like a thunderbolt this morning. I felt good, uplifted and happy. My family came to hear me and join me in singing or just listening. As a teacher and as a performer I feel the power of alchemy given to me through the practice of musical arts. I feel so blessed by it and I am grateful for it. I think that what I did this morning was putting the ancient alchemist phrase “ora et labora” or “pray and work” to work through the music that I was playing. Somehow I felt both Mother Mary and God, the limitless light, closer to my heart.
“Alchemist Piano” studio is now moving to a building right next to my house, a bigger and brighter space. Two old friends, who are also friends of Alchemy, are working hard right now, putting in a beautiful golden cork floor. This was a long waited experiment finally realized.
May I suggest a meditation practice for your experiment of the day (month, year, decade, etc.): Pay attention to your dreams as you undertake your experiments because your dreams will come true!! Dominus tecum. Peace.