18/01/2017 11:25 GMT | Updated 18/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Music Saved My Grandmother's Life And Inspired Mine

Olja Merker via Getty Images

1944 in war torn Italy, and my Grandmother, Albertina Conti, was force-marched north after being captured by the Germans in the city of Livorno (Leghorn).

She had just returned to her bombed out home in Livorno, against all advice. Why? To see if one of her most precious possessions was still intact: her piano.

Prior to the war she had been a music teacher and an operatic soprano, but the ravages of war had forced her from her home and job. With the Germans retreating, she risked her life to return to check if her piano had survived. It had been a bad choice as a remaining garrison captured her. Like many of the Italian women she was taken to cook for the soldiers. One day the German's heard her singing and offered her extra rations if she would sing opera for them, to lift their spirits. and so that's what she did as they headed North. In the North the Garrison was ordered to Padova, they felt a great sympathy for "Alba" and she was sent North to Germany with the other prisoners.

By luck, she met a cousin on the train. It was clear from Albertina's papers that she was not heading to a good destination. Instead she was heading to a notorious work camp. The cousin begged her to jump from the train near Berlin and gave her the name of a German family that were sympathetic to Italians, and more so were music lovers. She did as instructed and the family helped her.

The war came to an end and she found that she had been hiding just a few hundred meters from Hitler's bunker. With the overthrow of the Russians, who had little sympathy for Germans or Italians, she witnessed firsthand their atrocities. She had tried to escape by putting flower in her hair to look older, but it didn't work. Eventually she was taken prisoner to the Buchenwald work camp. It was there she met Giuseppe, an Italian navy prisoner. They heard they were destined to be transferred to a work camp in Russia, so decided they must escape. One night they escaped and made the treacherous journey on foot south - back to Italy. By day they would hide and she would sing quietly to give them both hope along the entire journey. Eventually they both made the crossing of the border by night and back into Italy. Once back in Italy, Giuseppe had to leave her as he was betrothed in Sicily to another.

Albertina returned to her home in Livorno where her family was shocked that she had survived. And there in the home was her piano, upon seeing it - she immediately started to play. A month later she discovered she was pregnant with my father.

When I was young she told me of the importance of music and how it literally had saved her life. She taught me that music has a power on the human spirit even in the darkest moments. She encouraged me to sing, and taught me about music. It's still hard for me to imagine what she must have been through, but I know how music must have impacted the soldiers around her. It is amazing that her singing was able to change the thinking of the soldiers, create sympathy and have them spare her life.

Music gave her freedom and a future. In fact, I would not be here today if it had not been for her desire to return to her piano, then her ability to sing that helped her survive the last days of the war. Although she is gone now, everything she taught me stays with me, and besides my voice, which is a gift that she gave to me, I also took from her the strength and determination she always showed. She was a very strong woman, which has made me the artist I am today.

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