Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Slow and Steady

  I sat down to play some new songs this evening and was pleasantly surprised to be able to work my way through them without a lot of long stretches of staring that alternated between the keyboard and the sheet music. Usually I feel like I'm trying to crack the Rosetta Stone when I look at a new piece of music and it takes such a ridiculous amount of time for me to get through a very short amount of music.

"Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles.

  I'm used to fighting tooth and nail to make progress on every single beat. First I would work my way through the notes, then I'd notice the song had dynamics, then I'd notice some accidentals that I had missed, then oops, this alternates between mezzo forte and pianissimo several times, and at last notice I'd completely overlooked the repeats. It was nice to flow through a song for once and feel somewhat competent at the whole process, being able to take in a majority of the nuances the first try and actually play them where it almost sounded like the actual song on the first go-round. It made me think of those 3d puzzles you'd stare at as a kid, when you'd say, "I think I might possibly maybe see the spaceship," before getting to that point where you could see it instantly, every time, in its entirety.

Hint: not a spaceship.
 Progress isn't something you tend to notice in the present when learning something new. Usually it's only after looking back at where you've come from that you notice the improvements, which I suppose is pretty much what I did today, but it felt more "in the moment", if you will, than I've experienced before.  It made me think that everything was really coming together.

There's one thing I want to say, so I'll be brave.
You were what I wanted, I gave what I gave. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013


  The aforementioned performance has come and gone and I feel it went smashingly. It was a pleasure to meet some of the other pianists that I don't see due to conflicting schedules and to mingle with them a bit. They all seemed like great people, and a few of them can bake their bums off. It was especially gratifying to see my class-mate Suneethi perform and rock her song as well as she did. I was proud to see her do so well. Not that I ever doubted she would.
  As for myself, I had some extreme butterflies going on all day that increased gradually throughout the day and reached critical levels when I arrived at the studio. Yet when I went up there, took a bow and made overly-dramatic coat-flap flourish, I almost forgot about everyone and zoned out. I don't even remember playing through the piece exactly, but I do recall feeling like it was my best run-through of that song to date. I missed one note but I don't think it was noticeable if you didn't know the song. But all of the nuances that really give the song it's variety - the constant shifting crescendo and decrescendo especially - I feel like I nailed just right for probably the first time. I quite nearly felt like I knew what I was doing.

The pose I wanted to make when I finished.

  Looking back over my life, I can think of several incidents where I was required to perform in front of people, or speak to a large group, and I was always sweating bullets until it was time but when the moment of truth came I always seemed to do quite well. There's nothing about my personality that would make you think I'd ever be skilled at either of those. I'm usually quiet, not a very good mingler, and rather shy. But I've been fortunate enough to really pull it together for events like this. I think the adrenaline rush really works in my favor. Perhaps I even have a natural talent for public speaking or performance, but just haven't been in that many situations that require it and thus never realized that fact. I'm going to go with that theory for now and ride it out until I'm proven otherwise. If I am ever proven wrong, I just hope it's not publicly.

  All in all, I think today was a great success not only for myself, but for everyone who performed, and especially my instructor who is doing such an amazing job sharing her passion for music and instilling it in others.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


  Saturday I get to play in front of a bunch of strangers. Uh oh. I didn't really anticipate checking off the "play in front of people" goal from the list so early, nor in this way, but it's probably good practice. The whole "wait until I'm amazing and blow everyone's mind" level I was going to try and achieve first is likely a looooong way off.
  It's a short piece I'm doing, no more than a minute long, and I can play it in my sleep. That's not to say I've mastered it, but I've practiced extensively and know all of it's subtleties and texture by heart. Despite that, I'm still anticipating disaster. Every so often when I'm playing it in front of someone, I start thinking about what I'm doing instead of just doing, and that's when things go south. I do best when I can sort of unfocus my mind and take it all in as a whole, with all the nuances and pieces working quietly and smoothly in the background, out of sight and out of mind, like when you're drawing still-life and you unfocus your vision to zone in on the primitive shapes that make up your subject. My brain isn't being overwhelmed by counting beats and remembering legatos and that I need to alternate between mezzo piano and mezzo forte, etc. My body just knows what to do, and does it.

  Here's to hoping I don't have - as my friend Ashby calls them - a "Classic Nick" moment where I'm involved in a ridiculously extensive and convoluted event that causes me extreme levels of embarrassment. Thankfully I feel like I've always been pretty good at keeping a song going even when I screw up, thanks to my first guitar teacher drilling the importance of that skill into my head so many years ago. It's possible I'm not actually good at it and just think I am, but what I don't know won't kill me.