Friday, May 4, 2012

Hello (again), Steinway!

The hiatus is over!  After an awful dry spell of being simply flat out from work and feeling unable to even face the piano (much less get sleep), I am back to practicing and my lessons.  The most frightening thing about being lost in a vortex of work-induced stress was that during that time, I had no idea why I'd ever wanted to pursue studies in music at all.  It was a very scary feeling, and it was all too real.  All I could think about was how tired I was, how I wasn't even close to getting done all the things I needed to get done, and how I was going to get through it with spirit intact.  

The spring quarter at Foothill had begun and as I wrote essays about Chopin, Lizst, and the rise of pianism in 19th century Europe, an ember sparked deep inside me.  That night, even as I looked in the mirror and thought my face was going to fall off, I told myself, "Come hell or high water, I'm going to my piano lesson this week!"  No matter how terrible I sounded, I had to start again.

And I am so very glad I went to class!  After knocking politely and entering the studio, I saw that Mr. LaRatta was sitting in his upholstered armchair as always.  He peered up from his glasses, crossword puzzle in hand, and said, "And you are ...?"

Like an impetuous child, I stamped my foot and exclaimed, "I knew you were going to say that!  I knew it!!" and we both burst out laughing.  After he asked about my health, I asked him how he was.  "Oh, I'm just fine.  Well, I worry about my babies, you know," and he gave me a knowing glance.  I was moved by this unexpected revelation - after all, I've been his student only since January!  It's wonderful how he truly cares about his musical charges, young and old.

I asked for his forgiveness even before I'd played a scale for him - I'd obviously fallen off the wagon and my playing would show it.  Mr. LaRatta didn't answer me immediately.  Instead, he made a simple drawing with his pencil in the margin of the crossword puzzle he'd been working on.  "Tell me what that is," he said, and I replied, "It's an eight note."  "No," he said, with the air of someone patiently explaining something extraordinarily simple to a young child, "it's a threatening note."

I started at him with a deer-in-the-headlights-look.  "I beg your pardon?"

"If you're really not making any progress, this is what I'll send you, okay?  If you get this in the mail, you know you're in big trouble!"

Oh!  A threatening note in the mail!  I nearly fell off the armchair.

I've promised myself that no matter how tired I am, I am going to say hello to the piano every day.  I will feel the keyboard and know it a little, even if all I can muster is a scale or one Hanon exercise.  After I began to practice again for the first time since I fell off the track, I almost had to stop: the clarity and sheer beauty of Steinway's* sound was breathtaking.  I almost wanted to cry with joy; how could I have ever neglected it, and my own musical desires?

I suspect I would not have reacted so powerfully had it not been for the long period of running myself into the ground with my professional obligations - it's not that I necessarily disliked what I was doing, but the piano is something I'm truly doing for myself.  To rediscover that was like coming home.

And even if I had no other impetus to improve at the piano - and I have plenty - I certainly would not want to disappoint Mr. LaRatta.  The idea of that is much worse than the "threatening note" itself!

* I've taken to simply calling my piano "Steinway".  It feels both intimate and respectful!