of the Eiffel Tower. She offers me a whiskey or a cognac — along with a hearty laugh as it's 10:30 in the morning.

It's that humor, a sense of optimism and her beloved piano that have buttressed and comforted this centenarian through an often difficult life. Maze has just released her sixth album at the age of 107.

While she lives alone, on this day her 71-year-old son, Fabrice, has joined us. Maze sits down to play her Steinway baby grand — one of two pianos she owns — with her gray tabby cat, Tigrou, stretched out on the carpet near her feet.

Across the room is the Pleyel piano she received on her 18th birthday. Maze began playing at the age of 5. Her grandmother played piano and her mother the violin. She remembers concerts at their grand Paris apartment when she was a child.

But Maze, born on June 16, 1914, says her mother was severe and unloving. So she turned to music for the affection she lacked at home.

"I always preferred composers who gave me tenderness," she says. "Like [Robert] Schumann and [Claude] Debussy. Music is an affective language, a poetic language. In music there is everything — nature, emotion, love, revolt, dreams; it's like a spiritual food."

Maze says she believes there is a guiding force in our lives. The fact that she grew up just steps away from Paris' prestigiousÉcole Normale de Musique is one example. She auditioned for, and was granted, a spot with its director, legendary pianist Alfred Cortot. Maze's other early instructors included virtuoso pianists Nadia Boulanger and Jeanne Blanchard. (She remembers Blanchard had tiny hands, just like her.)

Maze received deep and rigorous musical instruction from an early age and aspired to become a professional. But that wasn't easy for a girl in the early 20th century. The piano was meant to be a pastime, not a career. For her parents, it was inconceivable that she become a musician.

She remembers taking final exams.

"There were several levels, and the top one was concert pianist," she says. "I just missed it because my parents wouldn't let me stay in our apartment with the piano while they were away. They thought I might make a mess, so they put me in the maid's room upstairs, which had no piano, so I couldn't adequately prepare."

Maze did attain the second level, qualifying her to teach. She went on to become a teacher for nearly 20 years.

I ask her what memories she has of the war. She begins to talk about going down into the basement before her son gently interrupts to tell her she's confusing World War I with World War II.

With a hearty laugh, Maze realizes her mistake. What's incredible is that she's old enough to remember both world wars.

She recalls the thundering noise of the Germans' long-distance artillery cannon, known as "Big Bertha," being fired on Paris, as a 4-year-old in 1918 when her family took refuge in their basement.

In June 1940, when France fell to the Nazis, she and her best friend rode their bikes hundreds of miles to the rural south, part of the great exodus of panicked Parisians.

After the Second World War, Maze met and fell in love with the man who would become Fabrice's father. He was already married. She became a single mother, and her own parents cut her off.

She raised her son in a tiny apartment and struggled to make ends meet.

"I realized later that this bourgeois family was really selfish," Fabrice Maze says. "They had no heart to leave their daughter in this very poor condition."

In that milieu, in that family, a woman could not take her destiny in hand, he says. "She was expected to have a very bright and great marriage with someone rich and be a perfect wife," he says.

"The problem is Colette was an artist in an excessively classic family that did not understand her, so she was completely isolated," he says. "And despite that, she persevered and did take her destiny in hand. She did not want to be in conformity with the family tradition. She decided she was an artist, a musician, not a housewife, so she married the piano ... to the detriment of all the social conventions of the day."

Later, as her son was growing up, she did choose to marry. But he says, "She was never lucky with her sentimental life, she was not understood by her family. She fought. And her piano was a source of equilibrium."

Fabrice Maze began to think about recording his mother when she was in her 90s.

"I always knew the piano — from morning to night — she was always at the piano. She sort of breathed through the piano," he says. "And for me, it was important that she could record, to leave a trace — to leave a message."

There was another reasonfor recording her. ColetteMaze is one of Cortot's last living pupils. Cortot taught a specific technique and method, focused on relaxing the arms and hands.

"So the way she's touching the piano is very special," her son says. "It's very rare. The way she is playing Debussy is very unique."

He says his mother has always been self-effacing and wasn't interested at first.

"She told me, 'No, there are so many great pianists in the world, it's useless.' "

But he says she finally came around to the idea. They started with a first recording, then a second, a third and on up to a sixth, which was released in May — a compilation of all the Debussy from her earlier recordings.

"Now she's been recording for the past 15 years, and she's left about eight hours," he says. "It's very precious. Now she's existing through her piano, and her piano was her life."

Maze records her albums at home with the help of a sound engineer — usually on Sundays, when the neighbors are likely to be out and the building is quieter.

She loves Schumann and says she is entranced by the love story between the 19th century German Romantic composer and his wife, Clara. She says she's still waiting for her own Prince Charming.

You have to look at life from all sides, she says, and there's always an angle of joy.

"Youth is inside us," she says. "If you appreciate what's beautiful around you, you will find a sense of wonder in it."

  • SoCo Calendar
  • Talk To Me
  • Birdwatch
  • Stickers!
  • KRCB-Me
  • Living Downstream
  • Hiding Places
 
Be on KRCB 104.9...answer this month's "Talk to Me" question: With fire season upon us, are you having second thoughts about Sonoma County?
 
You can do a recording right from your computer or smartphone, but please use an external microphone (ear buds are good enough). Don't worry, you can try as many times you like until you get a "good take." We won’t hear any of the bad ones. After you finish, the page will give you a chance to listen and decide if you like it. Once you get a good one, you'll be asked for your name and email address. Then hit "Send.” (Click "reset" if you would rather try again.)
 
Go to the recorder page

Listen to the Sonoma County Birdwatch!

fullerThroughout the week, we play short segments about what birds are out in Sonoma County and what they sound like, from Harry Fuller. Here's what we've aired so far. Harry spent his working career as a TV and Internet newsman in the Bay Area.  He’s been leading bird trips and writing about birds for thirty years.  He has written three natural history books: Freeway Birding, I-5 San Francisco to Seattle; San Francisco’s Natural History, Sand Dunes to Streetcars; Great Gray Owl in California, Oregon & Washington. He blogs regularly about birds: atowhee.blog.  And he frequently leads birding trips on the Pacific Coast. Check him out at http://www.towhee.net/.

window stickerGet Your Free KRCB 104.9 Window Sticker
 
Get yours today at these friends of KRCB:
 
-Stanroy Music, Santa Rosa
-The Next Record Store, Santa Rosa
-All 10 SoCo Mary's Pizzas
-Acre Coffee (SR, Petaluma, Sebastopol)
-Wolf House Brewing, Cloverdale
 
They might look like bumper stickers, but they're meant to stick to the inside surface of glass.

We've got a new thing: text KRCB to (707) 606-0911. Or just add your cell number below. We'll text you back when we have something special on the radio--so you can listen live or with a link to listen later. No spam! Not more than once a week or so. Try KRCB-Me.

Our podcast "Living Downstream" has been named by the Global Center for Climate Justice as one of "Five Climate Justice Podcasts You Need to Follow." Wow: https://bit.ly/2Xkbs0D

Listen to some recent episodes! Generations in Houston's Fifth Ward Contend with Contamination, Cancer Clusters will break your heart, and perhaps solidify your resolve to make change. The Sea Next Door is told in true partnership with the community living near California's Salton Sea, an environmental powder keg, where the state has no idea how to avoid a coming health disaster.

Get them here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dana RebmannDana Rebmann tells us all where to go in our regular Hiding Places segments.  Dana lives in Santa Rosa and writes about travel, nature, wine, and anything that makes folks smile for Hemispheres, AARP, TravelAge West,Diablo Magazine, Sonoma Magazine, The Telegraph.com, and more. Dana loves adventures that get her outside, especially near or in water. Check out our interactive map of her top 50 Hiding Places.

Read More

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.