Sunday, June 23, 2013

Patience, Grasshopper!

That frustrated person is me, talking to me ... 

Did I mention that I finally applied to, was accepted, and began work towards an MFA? I’m so happy, although it’s been challenging given my workload with a full time job and practicing. However, I am proud that I’ve pledged further commitment to music and the piano.

I’ll be perfectly honest: This path is not easy for me. I began learning four new pieces this year, and it has proven a significant test of resilience and prioritization. It’s not as if I’m learning four concertos, but these pieces aren’t exactly small. I’m learning a French Suite by J.S. Bach comprised of seven dances, a Beethoven sonata, a Brahms Rhapsodie, and a mercifully more compact Liszt waltz. There are of course the technical drills as well, and the upkeep up the complete set of Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales.

It’s valuable practice to play regularly in front of others to get used to the act of performance. With these pieces, it has taken me much longer to have mustered the courage to bring anything to the wonderful performance workshops offered to me and my fellow pianists. Despite knowing that the workshops are a safe environment for students and professionals alike to try out their pieces, 80% of the time I still think, “Ouch, I’m out of my league!”

Feeling unworthy, last semester I attended several workshops to learn from others but didn’t play anything myself. I not only felt guilty about that, I struggled with an overall sense of slowness. I felt weighed down by the nagging feeling that I wasn’t making enough progress.

Case in point: I’d originally hoped to present at least one entire work by the end of the spring semester. Instead, I slogged laboriously through my pieces at home and felt like I was getting nowhere. Still so many mistakes, still so slow! my inner voice harangued. 

In my more delirious moments, I’d sometimes picture a sturdy woman wearing a bandana and apron over her skirts, her beefy arm held aloft as she shook a flour-encrusted rolling pin and shrieked in a vaguely German accent, “You want to plays Brahms?! You must do better! Get to work!!” Ja, gnädige Frau! (Yes, ma’am!)

In other words, I felt inept as a pianist. It took me awhile to realize that it was pointless to focus on the concept of making progress - why not just concentrate on learning all the notes down pat so I could get to the exhilarating part - figuring out how to make music?

On some days when I wasn’t too tired after a full day’s work and (frustrated) practicing, I would play through several pieces that I’d already learned - Chopin, Ravel - and simply let go to feel the music. In the end, exhausted but happier, I would feel that maybe - just maybe - I was a halfway decent piano student!

I’m actually glad it turned out to be tough. My journey back to the study of piano and music is about learning and growth, and I now see how fortuitous it was that I began learning several new pieces at once. It has been a test of my patience, fortitude, and concentration.

I count having muddled through the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 26, No. 12 at the workshop a milestone of sorts. And recently, I played the first three dances from Bach’s French Suite No. 5. Even though my fingers went pell-mell during the Courante, it was a psychological victory, a victory towards the project I like to call “Get Over Yourself!” 

I felt myself glow a little when my piano teacher told me I have the “right feeling” for each of the dances.

Every experience means more learning and accumulated growth over time. The challenges of the last semester have given me new perspective. It is a humbling and welcome journey. I feel I can forgive myself more.

And hey! If playing classical music on the piano were that easy, all this wouldn't be so much fun, now would it?