Thursday, June 11, 2009

Musical Funk

I am in a serious musical funk. Negative, negative, negative self-talk galloping through my brain. All though my lunchtime practice session today. All through my lunchtime practice session yesterday. Here’s what the negative little voice was saying:

"For someone so supposedly talented as you, who has worked as hard as you have at piano, you’d really think you wouldn’t suck as much as you do."

OK, I was going to make a list of everything that little negative voice was saying, but really, that’s pretty much what it’s saying right there.

Granted, I know I’m coming back to piano after a nine-month “fallow period.” I’m not in the pianistic shape I was in before. Deborah and others have said that fallow periods are necessary and good. That’s fine. But I think back to what caused the fallow period. It was basically a thought similar to the following:

"For someone so supposedly talented as you, who has worked as hard as you have at piano, you’d really think you wouldn’t suck as much as you do."

I can tell you when the fallow period started. It started at a group lesson where I played the C# major prelude and fugue that I had poured my heart and soul into for two years. When I took it on, I knew it might take two years (or more) to learn it. I was also learning Ständchen at the same time, which was no piece of cake. And I was working full-time, well, more than full time. More like 50-60 hours a week. And commuting two hours a day. So I went into this piece knowing I was going to live with it for a long, long time.

I was playing it really well in my practice sessions a year ago. I was aware. I was one with the piece. Playing that fugue was like having a million-tiny-fingers brain massage. It was like being part of a complicated dance where me and my dance partner were totally in sync with each other … only there were three dance partners—the three voices of the fugue. And the prelude … it was ready. I was ready. I looked forward to the group class, particularly because John Cobb, probably the most accomplished pianist in western North Carolina, was going to be there.

Well, I flopped. Maybe “flopped” is too strong of a word. But the prelude sounded mediocre, and I didn’t play the fugue well at all. I played it certainly … but it sounded like one of those “this-student-is-playing-way-beyond-her-means-and-shoudn’t-be” moments.

After I finished, I got some feedback. It included things like:

- Do you practice with a metronome? (Of course, this is a veiled and polite way of saying your timing sucks)

- Were you uncomfortable on the bench? I thought you looked really uncomfortable. (I wasn’t uncomfortable. But it was a comment on my posture, which I know needs work. Someone also said that I had some “strange body positions” when I was playing. Ah, nothing like knowing you looked stupid.)

I wasn’t uncomfortable on the bench, but I was uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable playing for other people, and always have been. So maybe that came through in my posture and “strange body positions.”

Whatever. After that session, I decided I really didn’t want to try anymore. And I’ve pretty much been stuck on the following statement ever since:

"For someone so supposedly talented as you, who has worked as hard as you have at piano, you’d really think you wouldn’t suck as much as you do."

So now that I’m back at piano and my time and energy are limited (amazing how much it takes out of me to drive an hour and a half on a Friday afternoon after work, or a Saturday, for an hour-long piano lesson), I’ve picked up an easier group of pieces.

I really want to learn all “Seven Dolls’ Dances” by Shostakovich. These are kiddie pieces, but I don’t care. Plus, I’m about to have a kiddie, and I want to play them for him/her. So I’m sticking with the Shostakovich. The other piece is a Schubert Impromptu (Op. 90, No. 2). I’ve dropped the Bach P&F I’d started, and I dropped the Beethoven Bagatelle, which I never liked that much anyway.

The Schubert is a late-intermediate piece. The Shostakovich is probably an early-intermediate piece. I’m working on them, rather than on more advanced stuff, to experience mastery and to play at world-class standard without having to struggle through learning the notes. "World-class standard." Those are Deborah's words. Heh. We’ll see about that. For someone supposed so talented as me, who has worked so hard … OK, we don’t need the broken record here.

So, that’s where I’m at. Feeling negative and kind of depressed about the whole piano thing. I really need to get back into the mode of loving piano and being thankful for my ability to play it.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Carried Away

I got carried away today—carried away into a wonderful state of consciousness where I lost all sense of time and just enjoyed being enveloped in the music.

That tends to happen when I find myself with a grand piano, a Baptist hymnal, and a big, empty room with excellent acoustics.

Actually, it doesn’t. I’ve been practicing at that same grand piano at that same Baptist church at lunchtime for a couple of years now. Rarely have I let myself lose track of time. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I know I need to be back at work by a certain time because if I’m not, I’ll have to work later than planned. Who wants to do that? Not me.

Today I worked on a very tiny part of the Shostakovich, practicing for mastery of that one little tiny part. Spent a good half-hour or more on three not-very-complicated measures. Dug into the music, picked away at the layers, drilled in rhythms, and in the process played those three measures probably 60 or 70 times. That’s the way I like to practice. That is why I never had, and never will have, a future in music. (That, and I’m deaf.) I’d much rather tinker with the complexities of a single measure than, you know, learn the whole piece for a whole audience.

(Selfish? Probably.)

Anyway, after I finished drilling the Shostakovich, I decided to go back to work a little early, so I took out the Baptist hymnal to play through a few hymns, like I usually do at the end of a practice session. I’ve played them so many times, and I have fun improvising and trying out new interpretations. It’s kind of a “winding down” for my brain after the intense practice.

Usually, I play a couple of hymns, then I leave. Not today.

Today I played and played and played. And played. For probably an hour. I’ve been working on gospel-i-fying the hymns—you know, playing it in 3/4 or 6/8 time, using lots of grace notes, adding climbing and descending octaves, etc. It’s so much fun, even though some of my results leave much to be desired.

I also practice changing keys, usually just basic stuff like going from the tonic to the subdominant. I stick to the easier pieces—the ones that just have three or four main chords. It’s good training for my brain. (Training for what, I have no clue.)

I’ve long been at the point where I don't play exactly what’s written on the page. The chords in a hymnal are merely guidelines. I use them as such and go from there. It’s so much fun, even though the results are sometimes disastrous. This is part of why I have no future as a church accompanist. (That, and I have no desire to be a church accompanist. And I’m deaf.)

Anyway, I left for my “piano lunch” at 1:30 and didn’t get back to work until nearly 3.

What a great way to spend a long lunch.