Gianluca Corinaldesi: Art in Our COVID Life

Part of our “Art and Artists are Essential” collection and invitation.


Who would have said the pandemic year would turn out to be one of the most musical years in my life?

I am the communications manager at the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS). I joined Duke just three weeks before the stay-at-home order.

When my life settled into this “new normal,” I found myself immersed in a routine—remote communications, minimal social interactions, and morning jogs around semi-empty streets—that seemed conducive to reflection and revaluation of the past.

Music had been big in my teenage and early adult years. At that time, I was always in bands, mostly as a singer. I took advantage of these times to go back to the full discographies of old idols (Springsteen, Beatles) and new unexpected discoveries (Prine). I established a routine of two albums every weekend, listening on headphones while walking around the neighborhood in the early morning.

While this musical immersion was playing out, we as a family were also dealing with our kids’ education challenges during a time of fully remote learning. I have two kids, ten and six. They have started fourth grade and kindergarten at home, and as much as our schools are doing their best, we became concerned about missed developmental opportunities.

One day, my mother-in-law had the brilliant idea to gift us her old keyboard. We set it up in the kids’ room, only to discover it was broken (!), but the brief presence of the instrument in our house was enough to light the spark: Introducing music-playing in our family routine could provide an extra educational tool for our kids and allow me to play to my parenting strengths. With music, film, and art in general, I can convey a passion that can be contagious. Bonding with my kids over the chords of “Let it Be,” “Hey Jude”—as a start—and “Karma Police” or “The Great Gig in the Sky”—in the future—would spark a uniquely bright light in our days at home.

The plan was convincing enough: my mother-in-law bought us a new keyboard, we hired a local piano teacher (whose resume happened to include gigs with Paul McCartney!), and we made a deal to split our weekly online classes between my two kids and me.

The author with his two sons in front of their keyboard.
Family time at the keys. Photo courtesy Gianluca Corinaldesi.

“My wife told me that piano has completed me and brought more joy in the household.”

It’s been just over a month now, but I can already feel that the daily practice of art has become one of the highlights of the week. I can personally spend hours on weekends, learning the fundamentals and playing my first songs. (I had basically never touched a keyboard before.)

We have also developed a different approach with each of our kids. The little one is more analytical, and we engage him by treating scales like games. (“How many sharps does the A scale have?”) While the more emotional one, the fourth grader, is particularly fond of family sets, where he plays the piano and I sing for him.

My wife told me that piano has completed me and brought more joy in the household. I totally agree. The tactile feeling of the keys, the reverberation of the chords through my body, playing the lyrics that I love, all of this puts me in a good mood like few other things.

Now, the issue will be that I am also a perfectionist. It took me only a week of classes to realize that our current, 66-key keyboard, doesn’t always have room for the double octave with the left hand. When I shared this with my older son, he also agreed that the missing octave meant we were not “exactly” playing the real “Let It Be.”

So now we are in trouble. Christmas is coming up, and an 88-key electric piano with pedals is looming (expensively) large on our wish list.