Wednesday, April 20, 2011


One of the great difficulties of performing is putting things into proper perspective.

Last fall, when I was looking for ways to motivate myself to perform on the piano, I decided to sign up to play on an AMSF "Sonata" recital. This is a recital category devoted to longer works -- sonata movements, or even full sonatas. At the time, I was working on the Beethoven Op. 2 No. 3, which I thought I could get together by the time of the recital in November. However, by the time I contacted the coordinator of the event, the recital was full. The next one was scheduled for April, so I signed up for that instead.

Fast-forward to February, when I started lessons with a teacher who told me to stop working on that Beethoven sonata and choose something else. I knew I had the April deadline coming up (and had mentioned it to her at my first lesson), and I was dubious about learning (even relearning) another piece in a month and a half, but I pulled out the first movement of Op. 31 No.2, which I had worked on on my own a few years ago, thinking that, okay, I already knew it, and it's not so technically difficult, and I would be having lessons on it, so why not give it a go?

My lessons on this piece have been focused largely on tone, touch, and voicing. The big picture (memorizing, overall interpretation, preparing to perform) has been left up to me. Basically, I've only gotten as far with this piece as I have because of what I already knew. There are some passages that are simply physically awkward, and I still don't know how to un-awkward them.

The other night, I sat my husband down and made him listen to me play the piece and was dismayed at several train wrecks that occurred. I realized that I didn't know for sure what fingering I was using in all of those places, that I hadn't practiced hands separately nearly enough, that I was rushing. So since then, I've been trying all the tricks I can think of (playing with the metronome very slowly; writing down each finger on each note; playing hands separately from memory; practicing in different rhythms). This helps, of course, though I think it's too little too late.

I thought briefly of canceling on this event, and if it were something of great importance to my career that would cause woe unto me if I messed it up, I would. But the reality involves playing in front of a forgiving audience of maybe a dozen people at someone's house, for no stakes, so though I am certainly taking it seriously, it's not do or die.

I don't know why, but the closing sentence from The Great Gatsby keeps floating through my mind:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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