Saturday, July 19, 2008

An Unfortunate Fork in the Road

Picture yourself walking down a path with a friend when you come to a fork in the road. You go one way and she goes the other. Not necessarily bad unless you are playing a duet. That’s exactly what happened in yesterday’s recital when we came to the end of the middle section of our piece. I somehow forgot and took the repeat as I listened to Deborah launch into the second ending.

We stopped and managed to regroup to play the rest of the piece, but by that time the smile of enjoyment on my face had turned to a mask of terror. And taking the wrong ending was just the worst of quite a few mistakes. It was not an experience that I want to remember, but one I will have a hard time forgetting.

I was happy that Deborah at least had pieces to play with another group, but I was frustrated at having put so much time into practicing this piece that had so many problems in performance. I wished I had taken fuller advantage of the lecture series that centered on medical ethics instead of hanging out so much in cabin #59.

I’ve always prided myself on coming through in the crunch, so what happened yesterday? It was probably a combination of things. Most of my practice time had been by myself since Deborah was playing with another group as well; it’s of much greater advantage to be rehearsing together once both people have learned the notes. Had I learned the notes? I can truthfully say I could play every part of the piece flawlessly; I just couldn’t count on doing it every time.

Probably the most unnerving thing was trying out the piano in the auditorium where the recital was held a few hours before the performance. It was unbelievably stiff and the pedal didn’t seem to do much at all. I really was counting on that pedal for a lot of big runs. I know that is just a convenient excuse since none of the other pianists had any great complaints about the piano.

So now what? I seem to have to keep revisiting the question of how to make sure music is an enjoyable and healthy part of my life. Maybe that means not playing such difficult pieces. Maybe it means getting a good teacher who can work with me on performance skills as well as how to play the piano.

Maybe it means experiencing the many other offerings at Chautauqua next year and just taking a year off from musical immersion. Being a Type-A person is such a burden sometimes!


Blogger Cyndy said...

It is very difficult to leave all judgements aside when you are performing and it suddenly doesn't go as well as you expected, but that is what you have to do.

Once it's time for the performance you have to accept that you have gotten it as far along as you can (and nobody ever realistically thinks they will play it perfectly), and it's going to go the way it goes, and all kinds of unexpected things are likely to pop up during the performance unless you are a robot who can play it "perfectly", whatever that means. Expectations can be very detrimental to a happy performing experience.

If you are constantly assessing yourself and making judgements during the performance, then it will be impossible to play your best. Most of the people in the audience are there to enjoy themselves, and they will not be dwelling on your mistakes. They will mostly remember what was good about the performance because they want to have a pleasant time listening to you.

I know it's easier said than done, but the best thing is to always have fun performing, no matter what level of performance it turns out to be. For me that is what performing is all about. It is a reward for the work you have done, that you are now generously sharing with others.

You wouldn't believe some of the absolutely hideous performances I've participated in that I really just had to laugh off - because there was no other choice!

Also, if you seem to have the lowest opinion of anyone there about how it went, consider the likelihood that you were the least objective listener (of your performance)there, and it undoubtedly came off a million times better than you think it did!

10:22 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Cyndy -- A sincere thanks for the pep talk. I do believe there were beautiful moments in our piece and I am sure I am my harshest critic. What always happens is that in time I forget what went wrong and just remember the positives of the experience.

On Wednesday we had had an excellent coaching session with the head of the music program, who happened not to be there when we played. That alone was worth the entire week's work!

Fortunately we have another opportunity to play the piece in a very much less threatening environment. We play in a monthly piano group called "Works in Progress" that meets on Capitol Hill. Most everything we play falls into that category! So in August we will do it again.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

One of the axioms of live performance is that every now and then (all the time), things mess up. My brother, who is an excellent speech therapist was being observed by his boss for evaluation. He wrote lesson plans, had tons of cool things happening and then... a vital flaw in his lesson plan. He says, "Don't ask kiddos to write about their pets in the Central Valley unless you know how to spell the word Chihuahua." I guess he spelled it a different way in three different sessions. We can laugh about those things now, but at the time...!

Some very talented performers refuse to perform live. Others feel it is a way to stay connected to their audience.I think it's marvelous that you should HAVE this problem, not being able to play the piano well enough to have an audience, unless you count my mother!

2:32 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

It was your worst fear - making a mistake, so of course the gods decided to play with you. I hope you'll soon just chalk it up to whatever, and move on.

You've been running yourself ragged all summer. You're exhausted. Hope now that you're home, you'll chill out.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- Loved the chihuahua story! My whole experience last week taught me a lot about myself, my shortcomings, and my ability to accept whatever happens and just keep on keeping on!

I still LOVE to play the piano. It was so nice to sit down this afternoon with absolutely no pressure to play the very same piece and to begin learning a beautiful Chopin prelude.

Reya -- It was so nice to get home and know there was not even one thing I had to do today or tomorrow or the next day, that I was not leaving town for many months, and that I was cooking dinner for just the two of us. Traveling is nice, but sometimes coming home is nicer.

10:43 PM  

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