On returning to the piano

On Returning to the Piano

At the start of the year I made a resolution to keep to specific targets, call this my way of being honest about improving myself with a view to keeping a new years resolution. I resolve to 7 separate targets which I measure on a weekly and monthly basis to determine if I have upheld them. I’ve found that on the whole, I’ve been attending to most of them, although some weeks I do more of one task than the minimum requirement and less of others, due to the inevitable variance of everyday life, family and work commitments.

One such task that I set myself was to try and get back into music. This could be a vague thing from practicing piano to some other music related activity. I joined a choir late last year for example. I was then asked by my cousin in March to perform at her wedding reception. What an honour it was and I accepted hastily. I have a mixed relationship with performing, and in many ways performing is a metaphor for life, I find practicing piano a metaphor for life in other ways too when it comes to dull pedagogical issues of fingering in particular.

Back in the day I used to perform for ensemble and solo outings. I sang bass vocal part, played the  clarinet (mostly in ensemble) and I thought that my piano abilities were relatively speaking my stronger asset. I was kind of put off performing once I realised a physical peak to my abilities due to an issue I have with limited motor skills. I found that my mind could learn and memorise music that I was in fact, incapable of physically playing. This led to a certain frustration of sorts about my abilities and life in general. I felt a sense of injustice about it.

I hated performing, but I kept doing it. I wish I could explain what drove me in those days. In a way it seems to be my general mindset with many things in life, that I’m attracted to difficulties and challenges that can be painful, boring and adverse in other respects. When I was asked to play for my cousin’s wedding, I had to think of a repertory that was completely different to what I had before, and think of things to play that were suitable for the audience. When I performed solo I usually didn’t think about what others wanted to hear and felt that my performing was a brute form of self expression.

I rediscovered the joy of practicing piano again this year. I enjoyed having a goal to work towards and that worked as a very good incentive. I remembered the pressure and anxiety I felt just before I performed. I made a point of not drinking any alcohol or any heavy food just before my time to play in the wedding reception, and a testimony of my brother’s friend that he saw me finishing half a bottle of white about a minute before I was meant to play.

Playing again made me realise how much joy and creativity comes from performing. Playing again was a discovery of a part of me that I’ve been ignoring for so long. I found a new ability in learning to improvise and my aural listening skills have recently come into use when I was spontaneously jamming with a few friends of mine last week. For me, performing is a form of self-criticism, healing, laughter and an opportunity to bond with others. Performing and listening to music makes me understand the viewpoint of some of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (the latter an amateur pianist and composer himself), my musical education has been a great influence on my outlook in life whether I perform or not and even to a large extent my philosophical views. I can’t believe I stopped playing for so long.

Michael

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