I do it, and I do it big. Here's to not forgetting about it.

Posts tagged ‘Performing’

Black is Beautiful.

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Earlier this month, I was lamenting that the Chopin score above has SO. MANY. NOTES. For my taste, there is entirely too much black on those pages. Every dot is one more thing for which I’m responsible and quite frankly, I wonder whether I can handle it.

The score and I have a “special” relationship. Read: I’ve grown up hating it. That’s where the problems are! My strength as a musician has always been my ear; music reading has been a chore for me as long as I can remember. It is likely the greatest of my insecurities as a pianist. Seriously. Of musicians, we’re the brilliant ones. How can I not be a kickass sight-reader? Yeah, yeah, I’m still growing and improving, but I’m never going to catch up to where I feel I should be. Don’t ask me what that is.

However, as I’ve been preparing for my recital, I’ve heard the collective wisdom of my piano teachers bouncing back and forth between my stubborn ears. “Don’t be afraid of the score!” “Pay attention to detail!” “Put the notes where you want them!” Whatevs, guys. I guess I need to know where the notes are in order to do as I please with them.

And so, this summer I’ve arguably done more score study than I ever have. I think it has to do with playing on the other team (the teacher team) and asking my students to do the same. I hear them fight me like I’ve fought my teachers and I laugh, smile understandingly, then crack the whip. In this study, I’ve discovered something –

This is where the beauty is.

Not even necessarily in the score itself, although I believe that to be true as well. The beauty is in the process of the study.

I heard this particular Chopin piece at a high school piano camp and have been in love with it since. That was half my life ago. Actually getting to know the piece – digging in, closely studying – has been a struggle at times. However, I appreciate Chopin’s brilliance more than I ever could have as listener, or even casual player. My “in love” feeling was just that – an infatuation. Now, having really taken it apart, I feel I can say I truly love this piece.

There are few discussions of love that don’t remind me of the following verses from the New Testament:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13‬:‭4-7‬ NIV)

In learning to love the score, I have had to be patient. I have had to be kind to myself. I have had to resist the temptation to compare my talent to that of others. I’m continually humbled as I discover new things each time I really focus. If I were to keep a record of my errors, I don’t know that I would have the will to continue playing. I trust in my ability to grow. I persevere, hoping that I will do justice to Chopin’s music.

In learning to love the score, I am learning to love myself.

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Breath of Life

You heard it here first: I’m a big punk. I am prone to worry. It often manifests itself physically with headaches, stomach pains, twitching. Even though I know and believe the following:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭6-7‬ NKJV)

I remind myself of this, see it work, and forget EVERY TIME I need to apply it. Within moments, even.

Flashback – January 12, 2014. My second triathlon. HITS Naples, baby. I had heard the half and full athletes had a gorgeous swim on Saturday. The sprint and Olympic distance races were on Sunday. I had had a few swim lessons with Coachie and was excited to take my new knowledge for a spin. Hahahahaha OR NOT! The water was so choppy that I ended up having to take a break. That was after I had decided not to return to shore in a panic after the race had started. So. Much. Water. Everywhere. I breaststroked that bad boy, man. I was bargaining with God – “just get me through this and I’ll change!” Yeahhhh I’m still working on that too, hah. 🙂 When I made it to the shore, I was like Sweet Brown, y’all. I RAN FOR MY LIFE.

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Heh. I suppose the both of us were craving what we thought to be safe air. Quite frankly, I think bronchitis is less paralyzing than the fear I dealt with that day. In my panic, I forgot that indeed, I had plenty of air. Not only did I have air, but I had time to breathe it. My next triathlon swim went much more smoothly, thankfully. All I can do in the water is breathe and move forward as efficiently as I can without compromising my breath.

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Ah. If only if I had been able to internalize the business about breathing sooner. No worries, Coachie. In terms of words of wisdom, I’ve been ignoring (usually unintentionally) people a long time.
You’re in fantastic company with my piano teachers. They’ve been trying to remind me to breathe my whole life. What has happened to me in the water plagued me first at the keyboard. Instead of “OMG so much water! So many people,” it’s “OMG so many notes! So many people!” I question whether I really know what I’m doing, regardless of my preparation. “Should I really be here? Have I earned this?” At least triathlons have lifeguards! If I have a memory slip during a performance I am SOL, man.

But when I remember to breathe…

It fills my lungs and my music with life. I start to enjoy what I’m doing. I’m able to focus on the present. There may be a big ass wave in the B section, but there’s nothing I can do about it until I complete the A section. Why not try make the most of every moment?

My triathlon swims since January have been FAR from perfect. That didn’t stop me from having a great time and crossing each finish line with a huge smile on my face! I want my recital to be don’t expect my recital to be perfect, but I pray that The Lord will help me fill my music with life.

Tee hee. I screamed “I’M NOT DEAD!” at the end of St. Anthony’s. You better believe I’ll be thinking it when my recital is over!

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Apparently, I’m a Total Bitch. Classroom Edition

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Here’s a secret – just because your kid gets the claps and is adorable doesn’t mean he’s good.

Periodically during the school year, I allow my classroom students to perform for one another with very little guidance (a. Be nice to one another and b. You break it your parents buy it). I like this exercise for several reasons, but I think my favorite is that it gives the students a chance to explore without a right or a wrong hanging over their heads. I love being surprised by my students’ previously hidden talents and am delighted when they appreciate one another and burst into applause.

But maaaaaaaan do I see some “wrong” musical decisions. No sense of rhythm. No sense of steady beat. What’s a key? And that’s not even the kicker. Those kids receive the SAME amount of applause.

This is where I think to myself, “y’all just heard what I did, right? Why the hell are you showing EQUAL amount of appreciation for something of significantly lower quality? Don’t you know about the normal curve?”

Indeed. I’m sure my students would have a greater understanding of my frustration if I would only display this image to them:

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Mm-hmm. Clearly you understand now, dear children. Not everyone deserves the same amount of claps because not everyone can be exceptional. Otherwise, awesomeness loses its value, yeah? How can a standing ovation mean anything if ANYONE can get one?

Yet not just anyone receives standing ovations in my classroom. I do not force my students to perform for one another in situations like these. While I think it’s important that students push their comfort level, I don’t want them to develop a strong association between music and anxiety. My babies volunteer to share their music, and THEY are the ones on the end of the normal curve. I have to reassure my ears that the students are actually clapping for cojones and not musical quality. I suppose my job is to nurture already existing bravery and encourage them to discover that which they can do.

In the meantime – anyone know of any discreet earplugs for purchase?

Ms. IronPianist – Joan Of All Trades, Master of None

I am blessed to have a circle circles of extraordinarily talented and capable people around me. Their gifts and strengths are diverse, and I count myself thankful that I have no one in my life from whom I cannot learn. Appreciative though I may be, I find myself sad at times. As I float in and out of my circles, there is not one in which I feel completely comfortable. I struggle with feeling like an outsider, and I often wonder if doing less would alleviate my feeling disconnected.

Ms. – The Teacher

One might think that having two degrees in separate fields of music teaching would make me feel like I know what the hell I’m doing. Quite the opposite, actually. I am far from the first person to realize that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know much of anything. I give special recognition to teaching for being the area in which I feel doubly inadequate; both parading myself in front of 25 pairs of eager eyes and sharing what makes the most sense to me with one willing child. Most of my colleagues whom I would call friends have been teaching for significantly longer than I have. Much of that has to do with the fact that they went into music education in school before I did. I’m always late to everything!

Iron – The Triathlete

So, I’ve been doing triathlons for about 5 minutes in relation to my life of music. I call myself a triathlete unapologetically because it’s what I do. I have a coach. I eat to fuel for the sport. I train to improve. I complete races. Don’t think there’s anything missing, except the awesome, naturally. It would be unreasonable for me to expect to be a beast at these beginning stages, but it doesn’t stop me from noticing that everyone around me is faster. I would imagine that most have more experience, not unlike my colleagues, but I still fight with the thoughts that I don’t belong and that no matter how good I get, they – and it doesn’t matter whom they are – will always be stronger and faster.

Pianist – Duh.

I have a lot of emotion wrapped up in being a pianist. More so than either teaching or triathlon. While I am still a novice triathlete and even a young teacher, it’s fair to say I am a seasoned pianist. I have little tolerance for people who say “I’m not that good!” with false humility, so I won’t do that here. I’m well-trained and get things done. After 25 years of playing, I should. And there’s the rub. Could I be doing even better? I look at bios of other pianists and they seem extraordinarily more polished and impressive than mine. Where did I go wrong?

Joan

The choice to pursue all three of my major interests as an adult means that I cannot give all of my time to any one of them. I must admit that part of me is relieved, in that somewhere in my twisted brain my being a pianist is an excuse for my not being fast. “I could have trained to get faster but I had to practice!” I’m always shielding myself from accusations of inadequacy or mediocrity – accusations that I don’t think have ever come. “But you guys are thinking it, I swear! You think that I suck and you just smile and pretend to be my friend because I’m cute and witty.” I’m a head case.

But I can’t imagine my life without any of the three. All of them are ways to express the joy and full life for which I am so grateful. The grandness of playing Brahms will never be like crossing a finish line, which will never be like seeing a child’s eyes light up as s(he) is exposed to something for the first time. I am so blessed and humbled that I get to do all of these things.

I will never know if I am good enough. I’m not even sure if I’m doing the best I can with the gifts God has given me. I just know that I am better than I was yesterday.

I pray that’s enough.

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Triathlon Tough = Recital Ready?

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Two days ago, I almost fell off of my bike. Almost. 🙂 Winning!

Red Rocket and I had stopped at an intersection. I was riding with a group (in the back, per usual) and the group had restarted. The road was a *tad* bumpy and as I was trying to clip in my left foot, I couldn’t get the bike steady. I’m thankful that the cars to my left and behind me slowed so that I could live to say I lived through another day of triathlon training. Heh. Anyhow, I managed to straighten out Red Rocket, continue, and catch up with my group.

Strangely enough, this *near* fall excites me. My relationship with Red Rocket is becoming increasingly less tortured. Imagine that – you nurture something and it grows. Who. Knew. “But Lady J,” you ask. “Why would you be excited about almost falling?” Aside from the fact that I am unscathed, it means that I am one near-miss stronger. I was reminded of something that my piano teacher from high school once told me:

“You don’t really know your music until you’ve missed every note.

That used to baffle me, but now I understand. As I prepare for my recital, I’ve created opportunities to play for others and have been a little surprised at some of the errors I’ve made. My mock recital was especially helpful, because I had really forgotten what it was like to be that nervous before presenting an entire program of music. I even briefly forgot how one of my pieces started! All kinds of things I was NOT expecting happened as I was playing, but I survived, and now I know at the very least I will get through my recital.

Working to conquer the fear of my bike has helped me make great strides in my music making. Of all the legs of triathlon, I feel that cycling is the closest to piano playing, in that I am working to steer both my body and an instrument. The piano and bicycle are both the means by which I move forward, and it’s my job to manage my body in such a way that the motion is as fluid as possible.

There are times when I’m with Red Rocket that I’m absolutely terrified everything is going to go wrong and I’m going to fall on my face. My heart rate shoots up and I start to shake. I have to remind myself that 1) I know how to ride and stop the bike if I need to and 2) if for some reason I can’t, I will most likely be okay. I cannot live in fear of falling and expect to move forward.

Likewise, as I come to passages of music that I find technically demanding and I wonder if I’m going to make it, I must remind myself to live in the moment and make the very best music that I can. If I think about messing up, my heart rate increases just the same and my proficiency of managing the instrument decreases. Falls at the piano are inevitable, and they come much more often for me than on the bike simply because I’ve logged more notes than I have miles. And boy, do I remember my falls. “I remember from 2005 during the second A section of the Brahms rhapsody when I missed that F#. Why am I here.”

Indeed. Why DO I do this? Both triathlon and piano performance terrify me. How am I spending my summer? Preparing to do both. Investing time and money in both. It’s not even as though I’m particularly good at either! But – in 25 years, I’ve never DNF’d at a recital. There’s no greater feeling than finishing something I’ve set out to do. I’m a champ when it comes to moving forward.

I don’t need no stinkin’ rest days!

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Calm down, Coachie. Heh. I love that Thursday is my planned rest day! During the school year, it allows for the perfect mental relief. “Today, I rest, tomorrow is Friday!” Winning! Moreover, I appreciate the logistical ease of rest day. It’s nice to feel like I wake up with something accomplished already. Rest (rimshot!) assured, Lady J observes this day and am not overtraining.

For triathlon.

Sooooo what does a triathlete do on rest day? “Ooh look, I don’t have a workout, WHY DON’T I SCHEDULE MY PIANO LESSONS?!” Logistical ease, right? Roll out of bed and instead of immediately cursing my fins/helmet/weights/sneakers, I curse Brahms. Brilliant. I mean, I have my recital in – uh. OMG 41 days! I must make time to practice and get feedback.

And make time, I have. There have been days when I’ve put in six hours at the piano. Not just goofing off kind of six hours but tedious, combing over pieces kind of six hours. It’s been fantastic, and I am pleased that this amount of practice is not only coming with (relative) ease but moments of joy as well. However, I have not practiced at levels like this since I was preparing for my last solo recital ohhhh, I don’t know. SIX YEARS AGO!!

I wouldn’t say that I’m going from sitting on the couch to running a full marathon, so to speak. I do play the piano fairly regularly. I teach, I demonstrate, I perform occasionally. Perhaps it is more like having run a marathon before, maintaining an elemental fitness base, and deciding I should do a marathon again. With a completely different body/mind.

Lady J is finding herself TIRED, y’all. My brain spins from practicing that much. The first two weeks of summer have come and gone and while I’ve cherished the respite of not having to go into work each day, I don’t think I’m getting the mental vacation that I need. I must do something to ensure that I give my mind and spirit the rest it deserves. I have respected my body enough to do the same. If I am not careful, August will be here, I’ll have given a damn good show (looking fine as hell, thank you Augusta training) and I will not have taken one legit rest day. Problem.

Throwback Thursday: Temptation Edition

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So, it’s summer. Not just any summer, but teacher summer. Single, childless, teacher summer. Hard to beat. I prance through the mall, singing to myself, “La, la, I’m not responsible for these children!” Not even kidding. When I’m not prancing, I’m either at the gym or at the piano, of course.

Problem(s).

Often, on nutritional regimens, people will say that during the week they are fine but on the weekend, there is a tendency to go buck wild. I’ve found that as long as I plan for the weekend in a way that I plan for the week, I’m good. But, uh – I kind of have a 70 day weekend. I’m not THAT good. Also, playing the piano as much as I am now hearkens back to my days of college and graduate school, where I relied on food to cope with all the negative emotions I had . Even when as I practice happily I think to myself, ooh, food reward! Damn.

Then, today, I had my piano lesson. The kind where I’m taking it instead of dishing it out. I can’t say that it was bad, as my perspective has changed, but it didn’t go how I would like. Quite frankly, I lost my appetite – for everything. No thought of any food excites me at the moment. Feel a tap on your shoulder? Is it Jesus? Yeah, that’s rare. However, I’m starting to realize that this food battle is here with me to stay, so I’m not too concerned about it as long as I don’t eat like I’m a depressed grad student any longer.

What’s more alarming is how tempted I am to give up despite a setback. I arrived home not wanting to eat, but also not wanting to practice. I feel discouraged because it didn’t go perfectly. The spark I’ve had recently is – not dead, but dimming, for sure. No one can reignite it except me. That’s a lot of freaking responsibility. Especially now, because, whereas in school I had the motivation to NOT FAIL, there is nothing outward that can scare me into getting it back.

Good news, though – I am listening to the inner voice that says it is worth getting it back to see how much I can accomplish. I am not like those annoying people who pretend they are never sad; like they are never let down. I don’t have the energy today to try again. But Lord willing, I will see another day, and I plan on trying again tomorrow – to play with joy, to eat with purpose, and to live in a way that glorifies God. How else would I show Him I’m appreciative of all He’s given me?

Ecclesiastes 11:9 (KJV)

Ecclesiastes 11:9 (KJV)

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