Thursday, October 15, 2009

More about that hangover

To expand on what I wrote yesterday: Playing music taps into deep currents. The harder you try to express something, the more of an effect it has on you emotionally.

One of my cello teachers told me once that she "tried to quit" but was a "cranky witch" (or words to that effect) and had to start practicing again. (And as an aside, this was a person with a tenure-track professorship at a big university -- and she wanted to quit? Tells you something, doesn't it?)

Playing taps into the creative urge, which I think has some biological basis: the instinctive, subconscious need shared by all living things to carry on, reproduce, ensure that their genetic material continues to exist. Humans have sublimated this, and it becomes the driving force behind all of our various ostensibly nonbiological pursuits.

Humans are also inherently social, perhaps as part of the same survival instinct. Music is a vehicle for expression that satisfies, or provides a method for, connection with others that is more direct and powerful than the spoken word.

 When you play music that someone else has composed, you are communicating not only with your audience but with the composer. You are in a sense entering into his or her brain and communing in a most intimate way. You almost become the composer, but without all those inconvenient problems of having 25 children (Bach), being involved with a scandal-mongering lover (Chopin), or being a jackass (Wagner).

Anyway, I'm not a biologist, neurologist, or any other "ist," but I know from experience that once you get used to playing music every day, it's not easy to stop. Certainly there is some pain involved in the experience of playing and especially performing, or preparing to perform -- ranging from boredom to psychic pain to physical pain -- that often has you begging to stop: "Do I really have to keep doing this?!" When I was recording my nocturne the other night, for example, the combination of stage fright (or what we at Piano World refer to as "fear of the red dot") and frustration about how short my playing fell from what I was imagining had me thinking/feeling, while my hands were flying over the keys, "Oh, how I hate this!" But then when it's done, there is a deep satisfaction, combined with disappointment and an unsettling feeling that a compass has been removed.

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