Partially-paralyzed pianist refuses to stop the music

CHICAGO -- For years, people who live in a Chicago apartment building have heard the music -- heard what everyone assumed was someone seducing a song out of a baby grand with two remarkable hands.

But now we know that was only half right.

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Norman as a young boy.

Norman Malone

Norman Malone, 78, first fell in love with the piano at the age of five, back when he could use both hands. Back when a career as a professional pianist wasn't out of the question.

"Then when my accident -- injury -- at the age of 10 [happened]..." Norman started to explain. He calls it an accident "for lack of a better word."

Attempted murder is closer to the truth.

His dad was a very violent man. So scary, sometimes Mrs. Malone would ask Norman to stay up late to protect the family. But Norman was just a kid, and one night he was just too tired.

"I was supposed to stay awake," Norman said. "And I fell asleep."

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Norman Malone

CBS News

Next thing Norman knew he was in a hospital, next to his brothers. All three of them were bludgeoned with a hammer, all three of them were partially paralyzed. And for Norman, that was the biggest blow.

Not having use of that right hand meant not playing the piano anymore. "[I] kept trying to figure out, how do you play now?"

Until he learned that there are actually scores of scores written specifically for the left hand. And for more than 60 years now, he's been practicing them in private.

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Norman practices the piano in his apartment.

CBS News

A lot of people, when they have a special gift, like to show it off. "Well, I thought I was doing that with my students," Norman said.

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Norman and his students.

Norman Malone

After the attack, Norman went on to become a high school choral instructor -- one of the best in the city according to the former students we assembled.

"Yea, he was a great teacher," one told us. "I think that he maybe lived his life through his students," another said.

In fact, not even they knew how good he was until recently, when one of Norman's neighbors outed him to the jazz critic at the local newspaper.

Which led to Norman's first public concert -- a symphony of survival.

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Norman was overcome with emotion after playing his first public concert.

CBS News

It ended with a standing ovation, 70 years in the making. And as for what the moment meant to him, like his music all those years, he kept that to himself.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.