Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Work Itself Was The Pleasure

There I was sitting on the piano bench, arms limp at my sides. The depressive ruminations swirling in my head were immense.  With each negative thought, my body slumped a slight bit further on that same bench where I had so often sat with such very good posture.

"Why should I touch this instrument when no one is ever going to ask me to play."  "I'll never play for anyone."  "No one needs my skill on this thing."  "I have nothing to learn."  "What should I start to work on?"  "There's no place to perform."  And on and on.

So, having mentally and emotionally wiped the slate clean of all the motivations used from the past to play, I had to ask myself the question, "Well, if all that is true, is it still worth playing?  Why play? And if I do play, what should I play?"

I glanced over at a book of Chopin: Complete Ballades, Impromptus, and Sonatas.

There's only one piece in that book that I've played.  Why don't I just take a look at the other stuff.

Over the next couple of hours I fumbled and hesitated as I sight read through most every piece in the book, getting a picture, an overview, of the contents.

Will there be something I fall in love with and desire to play?

The sonatas.  Sonata number 2.  Oh!  The funeral march.  Sure, why not?

And then I came to the Finale of Sonata number 2.  The Presto movement.  Wow, this is hard!  Could I ever play this? I could never learn this.  I shouldn't try.  I should try to perfect something within my level.  Yet, it would be a challenge.  And I'm in no hurry, after all.  I could just take as much time as I wanted.  I could learn it inch-by-inch.

So I made a plan to challenge myself.  I will learn 2 measures a day and memorize them.  I calculated it out.  At that rate, I'll have this thing committed to memory in 4 or 5 months.  And then it will only be the beginning of working endlessly to improve it.  And I will have forever to the end of my life to improve it.

Every day thereafter, I sat down and worked on my two measures a day.  Within a couple of weeks I had 3/4 of the first page memorized.  Amazingly, I could actually see the possibility now of playing this thing.  Would I really be able to speed it up?  Lots and lots of SLOW practice.  Then, I "saw" a way of being able to play it faster.  Rolled chords.  I will just treat everything like rolled chords, using the patterns I see on the keyboard!  This piece is now coming within my grasp.

Also within that time-frame, just because it caught my fancy, I decided to really perfect the accompaniment to Liber Scriptus from the Verdi Requiem, which is a song that I have been practicing with my voice for a while.  On the second page, there were all these sextuplets in the left hand that I was mostly just faking and sloppily approximating when I played through the piece.  After all, it was not really written as a piano piece.  It was for an orchestra.  We're just trying to get the idea here.  Does it really even need to be so precise?  It will all just blur with the pedal anyway.  And yet.  And yet the way it was written was very specific.  Perhaps, just as an exercise, I'll commit myself to learning it properly.

Carefully, I broke down those measures and commited to analyzing them and practicing them very slowly.  It must have been so boring for my family to listen to it.  Sometimes for a full two hours I would work on the same 4 bars of music.  Slowly, meticulously. Did those amazing pianists who accompanied me practice it this way?  Seems like they just sit down and sight read it.  Are they faking/approximating it?  I didn't notice.  I will have to notice what they are doing next time they play for me.

A week later, those 4 bars came together.  Now -- at last! -- was the thunder, the fire and brimstone, the ominous warning in the rumbling flowing out of the left hand!  What satisfaction!

My husband passed by and remarked, "That sounds so incredible!"

I retorted, "Yeah, it only took me a week of incredible labor to play just these 4 bars!"

My husband said, "Don't diminish the compliment I just gave you."

I thought about it for a bit.  No, I'm not diminishing the compliment.  It's just that I would prefer to be acknowledged and complimented for the work I did over the past week than for the result I've achieved.

And that was it!  Eureka!  I found the reason to play when there was no audience, no performance opportunity, no opportunity to accompany anyone.  It was the work itself.  The work itself was the pleasure!