Monday, September 19, 2016

Beyond the MFA

This update is very much overdue, but I am happy to say that last year, I graduated with my Master of Fine Arts in Classical Piano and Musicology!
Performing Ravel's Valses nobles et sentimentales

In the process of earning my MFA, I met one of my most important personal goals for the program: presenting a full-length solo recital. If it were not for the late and much missed Mr. LaRatta, my piano teacher, I am not sure I would have accomplished it as smoothly as I did. He believed in me, and eventually, I came to believe in myself.

Performance is fraught with peril - the misgivings and doubts one has of oneself can neatly sabotage any attempt - and the endurance required to play a full hour and a half was something I had to work steadily towards. In the end, the self-doubt was what I wrestled with the most; strength was not an issue.

I recently came across my own reflections on my musical progress, written shortly after I had given my full-length recital. I realized anew just how precious this journey has been. Earning my MFA and reaching the milestone of a solo recital marked the beginning of new effort and more hard work towards the never-ending quest to learn, to understand more - and more deeply - everything I do, be it the art of practice, the art of performing, or the art of listening.

I humbly share with you my reflections from last year, as I neared graduation and considered my progress. In the end (or in the beginning!) my underlying motivation is about creating something new within myself that I can share with others. The reason for all my exertions is so that I may express the joy and deep emotion that blooms when music of the great composers surges through me. I am galvanized anew. It is time to practice!

Semester-End Reflection

My priority this semester, and indeed one of the milestones of my studies, has been to hold a full-length recital. My baseline goal was to have attempted it and to have pulled it off without any major calamities. Happily, my experience demonstrated that I do have the ability to focus, and that with enough preparation I can trust myself enough to let the music happen.   

The sudden, seizing doubt that has plagued me so often when playing in front of others was blissfully absent during my performance. Not once did I warn myself not to botch a challenging section, and not once did I ask myself if I knew my left hand. It was absolutely thrilling to put my hands on the keyboard and simply begin making music.

Alas, simplicity belies the work and dedication required to enable it, but if playing the piano were an easy feat would its pursuit be so rewarding (that is, when it is not utterly frustrating)?

This recital was the culmination of many (and admittedly not enough) hours of focused practice not only at the piano but also away from it as I mentally worked on pieces during a morning run, in the car, or while lying in bed when sleep eluded me. The knowledge that my efforts allowed me to fly free and to focus wholeheartedly on sharing beautiful music with others is gratifying beyond any measure.

As I embark on new repertoire I feel as though I am back to square one. It is a reminder that I am always learning, and that there are countless opportunities to broaden and to nuance my understanding of music, of practice, of reading, of listening, and of many more aspects I hope to discover. Every experience is one from which to build upon. Each experience shapes me and informs my next endeavor.         

As the end of the semester draws near, I head also towards my graduation. I cannot believe that this part of my journey is coming to an end, but I realize that this only means that I am leaving a particular framework. The wonderful community of mentors and classmates I have been privileged to know will always be with me in some form; their support and advice will guide me as I practice and perform throughout life’s many journeys. To them I give my heartfelt gratitude, and I wish them well as we continue sharing our love of music in whatever ways we will.