All By Myself, but not alone
Isn’t it funny how you can feel the difference between “no one is home” and “no one will be home for the next 6 hours”? That’s what it was like when the crowd thinned this morning and I had the whole house to myself.
I wrote that on Wednesday morning (2 days ago), the second day after the kids went back to school, but I didn’t blog it right away. Now it doesn’t seem quite so true. Already the newness has faded. I am already scurrying to accomplish even though there is no rush. No one will be home for the next 6 hours!
So I made myself – yes, twisted my own arm, sort of – to claim that moment anew. In that first opportune, anything-I-want-to moment, what shall I do? I sat down at the baby grand piano and played from the hymnal. It was open to “Breathe on Me, Breath of God.”
I had bellied up to the keyboard on Tuesday but got an unwelcome surprise. The keyboard was sticky. Not juice-spilled sticky, but hadn’t-been-cleaned-in-a while sticky. Now, you can do a bunch of things and ignore a few crumbs. Think, Starbucks table or library study carrel. But not with the piano. Piano is something you do “by feel.” It’s by nature, kinesthetic. Not at first, mind you. When you’re first learning, you hunt and peck – like any keyboard (and still for those of us who never took typing in high school). But at some point, I’m not sure when, you start feeling for the notes. And this makes playing fluid.
Now, learning to play was a long ago experience for me. I remember it feeling like an eternity to wait until I was 8 years old and I could take lessons. For some reason, 8 was a magic number. By 10, I was so over this, and I quit taking lessons. But my family always had a piano and there were always books with music to play and words to sing. So I bitsed my way through Classic Oldies and Classical melodies, show tunes and pop, blues and Christmas carols. It was an incredibly eclectic mix, and it all happened by accident. Because the books were there and so was the instrument. And no parent told me that I had to practice for my lesson.
So, it was probably a mistake when I signed on last fall with an experienced neighborhood piano teacher to take a year’s worth of lessons. We (really I, as I am the one who plays) had inherited this beautiful baby grand piano from my father in law. His children don’t play. Imagine!! It seemed like due diligence to go back and really learn the proper technique to play.
I hated lessons. It makes me nervous to have to perform, even in front of a little 80 year old teacher. And she is a gifted and diligent teacher, complete with listening tapes and scales and theory and reports on composers. She is, above all, an educator. Totally devoted to the study and craft of music.
I toughed it out. Practiced. Listened. Played. On the way, I found out a few things about myself:
- I can’t remember what I hear. This makes it difficult to recognize what are thirds and fifths after you hear them. Any 8 year old can do this. Not me.
- I don’t enjoy playing the same thing over and over again, no matter how lovely it sounds when you have completed it. Two months on the same song is 1 1/2 months too long.
- Artistic perfection is a real stumbling block to me. Seeking to do something perfectly gets in the way of my enjoyment. Perfection is not fun (see earlier posts :))
- I play by feel, and this comes after I have done it a few times. So, I was doomed to failure at lessons because I would go awry every first time through a piece. Patient teacher would correct. I would start again with mindset of failure. Downward spiraling loop.
So, I guess it was an odd sort of blessing last spring when I injured my hamstring such that I required surgery and a surgical brace on my hip. Because it prevented me from sitting upright for quite sometime. This meant I couldn’t feel the piano in the same way, which meant I could excuse myself from my lesson commitments.
That brings us right up to today. Where I sat at the keyboard – newly cleaned keys, cushioned seat and no brace – and tickled the ivories. The first time through, I heard my teacher correcting me:
“Play that chord exactly together. Reach for that note with the other hand. Ooh, was that sharp? Go back and do it again.”
I know that if she were listening to me play she would hear all those mistakes. But on this morning, I went back to my 8 year old approach, the same one I used to use when I accompanied my now 20 year old daughter singing along. The way that says: just keep the rhythm; don’t correct the mistakes; just play to the end. And that hymn became prayer. Missed sharps and off key as it was. It was offered in the Spirit of perfection which says, “Just play and let me make it beautiful.”
Breathe on me breath of God,
fill me with life anew.
that I may love what thou dost love
and do what thou wouldst do.
Why do I try so hard when all I really need to do is ask?