I’ve been thinking about the piano again lately, probably because of RECITAL. I think back on my years of piano with such longing. Of course there were times when I hated having to practice, but at some point the whole business just started to feel good. I was on the right side of the learning curve and my practice was moving toward prowess. I remember how capable I felt, knowing that there was this wide range of music available to me, knowing that if I worked at it I could call the notes forth as if they were so many dust motes in the air to be waved around at the will of my fingers.
In grad school I went to hear Chris O’Riley in concert (he hosts “From the Top” on NPR, and transcribes/performs indie rock songs for piano, notably Radiohead and Elliot Smith). Afterward I wrote:
When he first started playing and I began watching his hands, I felt wistful, remembering a time when my hands, too, could move so quickly and with such strength and facility. At one time Erik praised me for my octaves. After I first noticed Chris O’Riley’s hands reflected in the piano, I wanted to weep from all the memories. How many evenings of my life have I spent seated in a darkened room, playing, lit only by a single light?… I always used to imagine myself under the spotlight in a concert hall, whenever I practiced at night. These memories are not just in my mind but also in my eyes, my hands and fingers. And tonight here I was, seated in a concert hall, watching someone else’s two pairs of hands, my own two tendinitis-stricken hands tired and sore in my lap.
The other night I already had piano on the brain when O’Riley’s wistful version of Radiohead’s “Let Down” came on shuffle, bringing to mind that concert. I miss making music on a regular basis, I miss choosing new pieces to learn, but most of all I miss the mastery.
I guess at this point I’m probably about as good at writing as I used to be at piano, but writing isn’t like music-making, in that it’s not entertainment while it’s happening. In both cases there are a lot of exercises and slog work and all. But when it comes to piano, once that’s done, you can sit down at a moment’s notice and play a passable “Appassionata” or what have you. And if you want to learn something else (and are a good sightreader, like I am), you know it’s just a matter of finding something that’s within your ability.
Writing is not like that. It’s not fun to watch, and it’s not very physical. Yes, there is a ritual thrill to moving a particular special pen across a luxurious paper, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the feeling of partnership with a musical instrument. Painting, on the other hand, is a lot more like playing the piano (and has the added bonus that I get to listen to music at the same time!) — but I don’t have that level of mastery over painting yet, and likely won’t for many more years. Sigh. Siiiiiiiigh.
Great post, Lisa, and rather timely I might add!
On Mastery: It seems to almost be a lost “art” in and of itself.
I love the emotions that you captured upon hearing/ seeing Chris O’Riley play. Sometimes, the fullness of the observation is almost as important as the playing itself. I would love to strip away some of the distractions, technology, and instantaneous nature of that which keeps me from mastery. So…I won’t always be timely and regular in responding and/or commenting, but it will because I have stepped away to put in the necessary time in to achieve this kind of mastery in my own crafts.
P.S. Looking forward to the unveiling of your annual Valentine.
Thanks, Empress! I guess when I write about mastery — for myself, that is — I mean as much mastery as a breadth-based person has time for. 🙂 It might more accurately be called facility rather than mastery. But for my purposes, the feeling is the same. 😉
Good luck with your own mastery quests!
You are a rennaisance woman Lisa!
I haven’t answered your email – trying to keep up with this blog thing. Yikes! But yes when you get setled come to my studio. I won’t forget.You have to start meeting your bloggers around the world.
I hope so, Carla! No worries about the email. I’ll get in touch once we’re settled enough for me to think of going up to SF. 🙂 Looking forward to it!
I finally took the time to listen to this music. Exquisite! Beautiful music gives me goosebumps, and often brings tears. I can certainly understand why you miss playing, and mastery. Do you still have trouble with tendinitis? I remember when you were sewing it would bother you. And isn’t Erik going to miss his piano?
Glad you like the piece, Sherry! Have you heard the original Radiohead version? It’s quite different. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z_NvVMUcG8
My wrists do still trouble me frequently, but I also don’t rest or stretch them as much as I ought. It’s amazing how hard it is to perform this little bit of self-care! I should start small — at least just stretch them once a day, and remember to take breaks from the computer. ;b
Erik will miss his piano, for sure, but we’re confident we will find pianos while abroad. 🙂 In Toronto, for instance, a few of the public libraries have piano practice rooms we can book! Isn’t that wonderful?
We seem to be eerily synchronized more often than not; I just pulled my banjo out of the closet and gave it a good dusting. Not sure if I’ll go any further, but I can definitely relate to your feelings!
Mo… you can play the banjo??? You are my HERO. 🙂 I love it!!