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

Posts tagged ‘Practice’

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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The Importance of Hydration: Pre-Race Report

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Water is kind of a big deal. We’re made of it. The world is made of it. Yet it is often a fight to force ourselves to consume enough of it to keep us healthy – unless, of course, you are a student looking for an excuse to get out of the classroom. My babies can’t get enough water. I’ve found that the earlier I begin drinking water during the day, the easier it is for me to drink it. Moreover, the more I drink it, the more I appreciate it.

There are some times I crave water more than others, however. Water is never so good to me as it is while I am running. Of course, because life is HILARIOUS, it’s also not particularly convenient to drink while running. I hate carrying anything with me as I run, though I know that if I don’t, the results will be ugly. Then I will curse both water and running and a vicious cycle can occur if I don’t choose to simply HTFU.

The more I need something, the more I tend to resent it. So it has been with my relationship with running since I last had a race. That run was brutal. I was secretly glad for my overuse injury as it gave me a valid excuse to take a break from running. I used the elliptical for a few weeks as a sad, sad substitution. I returned to running with some resignation. “Do I remember how to do this? Why am I doing this? IT. IS. SO. HOT.” I was able to force myself through one 10 mile run prior to leaving for Chicago, which I’m positive I wouldn’t have done had I not had this race and wanted to feel halfway good about it.

Then I saw her.

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Ooh, baby. The starting line. I cannot see a starting line of a running race without my eyes brimming with tears. I was filled with joy as I remembered why I love to run. I love the chance to show myself what I am capable of when I do my best. I love to surprise myself. I love that I have an imperfect body that can do perfect things like run 13.1 miles! The starting line is just that – a chance to begin again and to give thanks for the gifts of life and health.

It frightens me how easily I can forget this. A little pain, a bit of discomfort – can cause us to take so much for granted. When we don’t hydrate properly, it is too simple to think that maybe we just don’t need it like we once thought. Suddenly, we are reminded by fatigue that this is not an option. Likewise, when we take the time to count our blessings, we realize that this too is something we should do regularly. We can then remember why it is we need something or even someone in our lives, and hopefully do our best to nurture it.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should hug your running shoes while you have the chance.

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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.

Sweet Relief

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If I met a man who could do to me what Andre Watts’ playing does for me, I wouldn’t be single. TRUTH. I’ve had the opportunity to hear him play more than once and every time it was nothing less than spectacular. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. I even got to meet him once while in college and OMG HE TOUCHED MY LEFT SHOULDER. If it weren’t for triathlon, I would never have washed it. Mr. Watts, God forbid anything ever happen to your lovely wife (Joan) but never fear, you’ve got another (Joan) ready to step in.

I have a VHS copy of his performance at Lincoln Center from 1985 that I watch whenever I am in need of musical inspiration. He never fails me. I watched it again fairly recently, and for the first time I made a note. A note of his missed notes. OMG he missed notes! But you know what? It did not matter. At. All. It did not take away from the music one bit. He was freely playing and expressing and sharing and WORKING. My God, he can work that instrument. Ooooooh, that lucky Joan!

Focus, Joan.

What a relief it is to know that I can be imperfect and yet still effective. I can miss notes and still make music. I can be slow as molasses and still cross finish lines. I can confuse kids’ names and not catch all the billion sunshine state standards and still be an effective teacher. I practice, train, and study no longer to be perfect, but to maximize my effectiveness. I recognize that I’ve been blessed with the gift of good health and must work to share what it is that I have to give in order to honor God.

How sweet.

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Freedom to Choose

“Joan. Not everyone is willing to make the sacrifice you are to make the music that you know you can make.”

The words of my piano teacher have been bouncing in my head since I last played for her a few days ago. At first, I just thought she was talking about practicing, as it can be bloody boring and tedious and not everyone is willing to sit and make it happen. Freaking duh. That’s why students quit piano lessons once they reach intermediate levels – if not before. That’s why students enter college and switch majors from music like, five seconds after arriving.

But what of we badasses who survive the hell that is being a music major?

I can only speak to one badass, of course. I managed to make it out of graduate school and the longer I’ve been separated from formal study, the more I want to learn and surround myself with music. Playing it, teaching it, studying it, ery’thang. The last time I had formal lessons before I decided to give a recital was 2009 while I was still a student. My last recital was in 2008. I’m doing this because I want to and that’s amazing. Perhaps this helps you to understand why I was a bit perplexed when my teacher was talking about sacrifice. “I love you, dear teacher, but I’ve been at this a while. I know it sucks quite a bit of the time,” I thought.

As you may already know, I’m quite charming. I also have a very large family. People like for me to spend time with them and I love quite a few of them. It hadn’t dawned on me just how often I turn down requests to hang out because I have to practice, train, or work.

This really isn’t one of those “OMG check me out, I’m soooooo busy!” kind of posts. I’m sure it’s coming across that way, but I swear that’s not my intent. I am not busy to show off – hell, I have to practice and train as I do because I’m working to suck less, hah! The sacrifice my teacher was speaking of has to do with choices. To choose to do anything is an inherent rejection of something else. I eat eggs for breakfast, that means I don’t have a shake. I train for triathlon, I don’t play soccer. I practice to perform – I have to make plans in advance to hang out. My life lacks spontaneity. I suppose I’ve become so accustomed to it that I stopped noticing.

I can’t have it all. Dammit.

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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.

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