Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Musical Immersion

This week at Chautauqua finds me immersed in music. It’s usually a good feeling, but at around 1:00 today I felt like I was about to drown. After an hour of personal practice time, an hour playing with Deborah, and 2 1-hour coaching sessions I was mentally and physically exhausted.

The best piece of advice today came from this morning’s coach Arie, a soft-spoken Israeli who is a professional cellist and who heads up the music program here. When I explained why I was playing one section of our Brahms sonata tentatively for fear of making a mistake, he said, “It’s a dance, a minuet, so you must smile and just play through the mistake. It will never matter.”

And later Bill talked about the difference between practice mentality and performance mentality. To stay focused and engaged, you must have the same discipline you have in meditation where you focus only on the present note, not the one you just played incorrectly or the one you are worried about in the next measure.

The best news of the day is that practice cabin #59 is now air-conditioned. I signed up to practice there because it had the best piano, recognizing that it was the only cabin that remained un-air-conditioned. You can see the beautiful new windows and the space in the wall reserved for the air-conditioner. As it warms up here, it will be nice to be able to stay cool.

My afternoon’s music consisted of attending a master class given by Rebecca Pennys, a renowned pianist. She tends to be somewhat brutal but entertaining in her comments to the young students, who all come in knowing what to expect. They played unbelievably difficult pieces, all from memory. After each performance she offered her critique, ranging from an admonishment not to bounce on the piano bench, a reminder to use posture that holds your body upright and not slouched over the keyboard, advice on using the pedal or not, and on and on and on.

At one point she was actually sitting on the floor and playing the piece on the second Steinway (and had the student doing the same) to demonstrate how much better he could hear with his head above the keyboard.

It was interesting to note that the class of about 20 students was over half Asian and predominantly female. They seems bonded to each other and receptive but somewhat impervious to the stinging comments. They graciously accepted the occasional words of praise.

The biggest surprise of the trip was the fact that our next-door neighbor here is the son of my high-school principal. He is 70 years old and has a vineyard in Westminster, Maryland. His mother of 98 still looks forward each year to her trip to Chautauqua.

I remembered that his mother had been a very strict piano teacher. In fact my friend Kay used to get dropped off for her lesson and hide in the front shrubbery instead of going in to take her lesson. Of course she was the same person who was sneaking out her bedroom window just a few years later.

Anyway, we have been invited to a Labor Day wine-tasting at this guy’s farm, complete with the music of Bruckner in the background. What a small world.

Tonight’s entertainment is a troupe of Chinese acrobats who will be performing in the amphitheater. Then it’s home to bed so we can begin another day here at Chautauqua.


Blogger Mo said...

Air conditioning, wine-tasting, and Chinese acrobats--sounds like a pretty fantastic day to me :)

8:14 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

what does your husband do while you practice? doe she play an instrument too?

9:08 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

he, not she. i should never try to type when my eyes are too tired to see!

9:09 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

What an interesting day and an amazing connection with your past. The world is a very small place and getting smaller every day, isn't it?

9:33 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mo -- Fantastic, but exhausting!

Pauline -- My husband is taking 2 writing courses: Write What You Don't Know and Writing Your Way Home. They are taught by very credentialed people and he has lots of homework every day! You would love this place.

Kristin -- Yes, I am constantly being reminded what a small place the world really is!

9:43 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

Barbara, your photos are great, I feel as if I am with you there! (Having a wonderful time, of course!)

1:46 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

When I lived at Lake Tahoe, I did community theater. As an actor I basically sucked, but I could memorize my lines so I often got cast anyway.

Like you, I wanted to be perfect and dreaded the slightest mistake. The director always suggested that I try to have some fun, but I just couldn't figure out how.

I hope you make a breakthrough this week - practice as long as it feels good and then blow it off, drink iced tea and put your feet up for the rest of the afternoon.

Ari is right - the mistakes will never matter. Never.

Take care of yourself - you still haven't recovered from your bout of headaches, etc. OK?

8:14 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- So glad you could come along!

Reya -- I think I had sort of a breakthrough today. Despite the persistent mistakes, I realized how much more musical the piece sounds. There is definite progress. I just have to put perfection out of my mind and play from my heart and it will be fine. The thought of a recital still freaks me out a bit though.

You will be pleased to hear the headaches are totally gone. My stomach has been a little rocky a couple of mornings, but that too goes away on its own.

The weather couldn't be more perfect. It's about 80 degrees and breezy. The sun if friendly today.

I finally discovered the well-kept Internet secret. There is Wi-Fi at the Music School office, right next to where I practice.

Miss you!

11:31 AM  

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