Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Food for thought

I had my interview/audition yesterday at the community college. The person I met with is the head of the department and also teaches piano. His office was stuffed with two grand pianos (Kawais) and a desk, with a tiny path to get to each. I introduced myself, and then he asked me to play something. I played about two pages' worth of Brahms Op. 118 No. 2, and then he stopped me and said it was fine. I believe this was my very first piano audition! (Even though I think they do this just to see if you can play at all.)

I explained what I want to do, and he understood and expressed support for the idea. He even mentioned perhaps having the theory teachers devise some sort of exam so that I wouldn't have to take basic theory again. Without needing theory or any of the basic general classes (which I took back in 1974), all I'd have to take would be four semesters each of piano lessons, what they call "applied music lab" (basically a performance class, where you learn to play for and listen to others, three hours once a week), and large ensemble. Most pianists take chorus, which actually kind of appeals to me, but because it's held twice a week at noon, and the college is a pretty long trek from where I work, that's really not an option.

So it looks like if I want to do this, I'd have to play in the school orchestra, which meets once a week on Monday nights and gives four concerts a year (on Tuesday nights). This would work well from a scheduling standpoint, but my first thought was, gee, do I really want to pay to play in a community college orchestra? My second thought was, maybe it would be fun. Or not. But I imagine it's probably on par with the other gigs I've been playing, particularly because some of the same people are in it (this is also a community orchestra, so there are a lot of people who are not students).

Anyway, I'm accepted at the school and have now had the required advising session, so if I decide to go ahead with this, all I have to do is register. I do have to audition for the orchestra before the semester starts, but I'm guessing that won't be a problem. The only other issue is figuring out which piano teacher to choose and then coming up with a good lesson time.

My husband asked me why I can't just take private lessons instead of jumping through these hoops. I have been asking myself the same question, and if the infrastructure -- the school, the performance classes, the juries -- really is that important. Well, in my own experience, simply taking private lessons has never been enough. Maybe it is if you happen to have a great teacher, but I have never been that lucky, or maybe I never worked hard enough or was in the right mental place to get the most out of it. I was always so passive, lying on the beach of lessondom waiting have wisdom imparted to me, like a suntan; I didn't realize you need to wade out there and grab it. Really, the most important element of developing one's playing is practicing -- practicing enough, practicing the right way -- and that's something a teacher can only guide. Sometimes the environment can be a big part of the learning process.

Just being in the music building yesterday, thinking about being part of a community like that again, was invigorating, even though it was between semesters and hardly anyone was there, even though it was not some prestigious conservatory. While I was waiting for my interview, I could hear someone having a lesson on a Chopin prelude (very faintly -- the building was remodeled a few years ago, and they must have put some good soundproofing in). The last time I was part of a music school, I didn't even know what that piece was; now I do, and could learn to play it if I decided to do so. It's good to feel that I'm actually learning things instead of forgetting them.


pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

Good for you. It sounds like you're being very thoughtful about the whole process. Now you just have to get to the decision...

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I'm surprised you are contemplating more instruction. You are a talented musician and my guess is that you will find that you already play better than 98% of the students and staff at the community college. My second guess is that any improvements that you make as a result of this move will be so small and incremental that only you will notice them.

Not that you asked, but since you have posted this on the InterWeb for the world to see I'll offer my opinion: I think your real interest is in performing and sharing your talent with others - not in getting better (you are already very good).

If a Harriet plays beautifully in her basement and nobody hears her, does she make make music?

Harriet said...

Anonymous -- :)

Thanks for the compliment, but on the piano I feel there are huge gaps in my abilities. I can't really play anything fast, for example. I seem to be able to bring only one short piece at a time to any kind of performing status, and then if I stop working on it intensely, it starts slipping away almost immediately. There are lots of pieces I'd like to tackle but I don't have the technical knowledge (e.g., most Chopin etudes, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, later Beethoven -- just a few examples).

Some of this is due to lack of training; some just because I don't practice that much. Given the way my life is set up these days, I don't know how I will be able to fit in a whole lot more practicing. Perhaps I should just be satisfied with where I'm at and be a happy hobbyist.

I'm still contemplating whether the school/degree is a good idea. Lessons are, definitely, but is the hassle of the school worth it? One line of thinking I've had is that if I do get to a point where I want to start teaching piano, having a degree of some sort would provide me with some cred with potential students.

One advantage of school is it's not open-ended. Private lessons are kind of like therapy -- they can go on for years, and it's hard to know when it's time to move on. School has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's goal oriented. I've found that this can be very motivating. You push yourself more than you would without it, and then after it's done find yourself at a higher level. It's kind of like they say about sports -- no pain, no gain.

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback.