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  • Writer's picturerhapsodydmb


Updated: Feb 18

Today was the final class in Noa Kageyama's awesome "Psych Essentials" to improve practice and also to practice performance to reduce anxiety and retain creative freedom and vitality. Those are worthy goals when playing music in front of a music teacher, a few friends, with an ensemble, or on the concert stage. At one point Noa mentioned trying different strategies to avoid boredom (especially when practicing scales). He had us try out imitating two others musicians to try to push our boundaries outward a bit, to find new nuances or dynamics that might work for us, and to keep us interested in and not bored with the piece.

A few days ago in my first session with a coach on the specific piece "Mallorca" that I want to learn, my teacher mentioned how to vary a sort of "trial-and-error" approach to keep things fresh and not get bored.

I found these comments odd. This led me to wondering about boredom and how and why it occurs -- if it occurs. I doubt boredom will happen to me when it comes to music and my piano for two main reasons, because they seem to have worked to keep me from ever being bored in my life. But how could that be?


My response to my coach was that I will try what he suggests, but that I don't get bored. I wondered out loud that maybe that was more of an issue with performers who play the same piece over and over?

Yet I can play those first four bars of "Mallorca" I was working on for 1/4 of the hour of my lesson, and at home afterwards, over and over ad infinitum, and still not get bored. One reason is that I'm trying to make it sound precisely the way I hear it in my inner ear and mind. I have an audiated goal to reach, so how could I possibly get bored?

I have two shelves in my bookshelf full of music and poetry books that I need to read; I can hardly keep from purchasing more, just like I purchase more scores of pieces that I hear for the first time even if right now it goes in my "To Learn" file. The latest such was Schubert's Impromptu No. 3 -- way beyond my tempo capacity in that mobile left hand, to be sure! But I'll get there sooner or later; I'm "not yet" there as Stanford Prof Carol Dweck says. Knowing the score of a gorgeous piece is safely esconsed (and those books) waiting for me, puts a tiny bit of pleasurable pressure on me to keep moving ahead with what's in front of me which I view as a sort of hors d'oeuvres to the main course. I'm always in excited anticipation of being able to sink my teeth into the next unplayed, waiting piece or unread book waiting for me.

Always something to look forward to -- that is one way I avoid boredom.


So often I've been advised to "play Bach, Mozart, and Handel" to have a baseline or foundation for the Romantics whose compositions I adore. I don't agree. Bach is an entirely different critter to my ears and hands (in the single piece I did manage so far to play in a romantic style and memorize and play through somewhat slowly), so how can they be compared?

More to the point, why play anything that I am not totally in love with? I mean "madly, passionately" in love with? Sort of like how that gorgeous little hummer pictured above looks!

I'm sure many teachers and advanced amateurs like my dear friend and mentor Joe (now in his 11th year of piano studies) can give me handsful of reasons, like more easily playing faster tempos or more easily and quickly "getting" the proper fingering. The first is not convincing to me because my preferred tempo is an ambling one from lento to andante cantabile. The second reason holds some interest, but I can work out fingering piece by piece, so why use a piece I really don't like, just to work out fingering? That makes no sense to me when there is so much luscious music around! And in any case, I'm in no hurry, really, so long as my "To Learn" file does not fill up the entire shelf over my spinet piano!

"In love" includes not only being musically in love with the harmonies and melodies, but also my body and hands also feeling in love with the piece - even if awkwardly so at the beginning. Some composers set their imagination and fire down on paper and the flow feels better, more comfortable in my hands, while others have gorgeous melodies in mind and on the score sheet, but I struggle to make the jumps or connections or phrasing or other techniques that work together to produce an integrated whole, in a reasonable amount of time. Yet I will spend extra time working things out because I am in love with the melody!

Speaking of time, I've said before that I don't have all the time in the world, or at least my world view is a lot shorter at 80 than it was at age 20 or 30 or 50 or 60. Life happens fast, and although I still use and believe in a "To Learn" file, I don't like to stuff it too full. One never why waste time on anything that I am not passionately in love with? As composer-singer harpist Amy Ahn says, "Life is short, and music is long!"

Besides, passion obviates risk of boredom, and that is good enough for me!

As Rollo May says in essence in "My Quest for Beauty", actual art is done "inside one's imagination, and is a function of how the individual relates to the world" If the essence of art "is playing (which may also be hard work)", and if playing "unites the dualism of humans as both finite and infinite, (and) the world becomes lonely no more," then boredom is irrelevant as a concept. May says that when he completed one of his pencil drawings, he would "experience a kind of ecstasy" and looking at the finished sketch would elicit a "kind of surprise." I think I feel the same whether I've completed a painting or playing those four bars of "Mallorca" for the 100th time, especially when it turns out more like what I hear inside, than not!

For me, the great rewards in living come from eternal curiosity and being as open as I can be to my senses, perceptions, and insights about experiences, myself, and others. With so much to learn and do and experience in life, how can one not be passionate and in love, at least most of the time? And if we are, then how can we be bored?

Time to go practice that four-bar intro to Mallorca some more times to see if I can get that half pedaling and key touch just right so the boat rocks (It's a barcarolle, after all) but the sound doesn't end up in a mushy heap before that to-die-for main melody starts happening in the fifth bar!


` ANSWERING (from Vol. 2)


I wonder why I buy more scores

I certainly can’t immediately play,

then each one goes into my store

of pieces I’ll take up someday?

I thought about that puzzling question

and here’s just what I’ll say:

each score upon arrival surely

brightens up my day!


Not only that, I’m sure you know,

each represents the hope

that someday soon my love can show

for what the composer wrote,

no less the appreciation that I feel

for music light or austere

that inspires me to express myself

and lift up those who hear.


For once I know and fall in love–

it happens in just an instant–

and feel the chills come down my spine,

then to resist, I really can’t.

Any melody that to me speaks out

and leads me to my home

lets me know I’ve naught to fear

and will never be alone.

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