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  • Writer's picturerhapsodydmb

"PLAYING"--NOT "PRACTICING" THE PIANO

Updated: Feb 2


"It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives," said Fred Rogers.


Check out the song "It's Allright" *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1LLwC7N1h8)by Curtis Mayfield of the Impressions plus "Happy" by Pharrell Williams (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbZSe6N_BXs) and you have the two perfect sound tracks for this blog!


As I reflect on the people for whom I feel deep affection and intense love, it is those with whom I can easily and unself-consciously play. Likewise, my Duchess piano, is one happyfying, all right thing-being in my life to which I am intensely attached, and intend to remain so because she allows me to play my heart out and give voice to who I know myself to be.


One of my favorite sayings which is posted near my computer, avers that "most stress in life is caused by those who take themselves too seriously." As soon as I retired from my last career in the fashion world, I noted that I was most delighted with the sense of ultimate freedom to determine what I would be doing each moment of my day, at least until my partner came home from his work. But my next delight was that I could and did choose all things creative and playful to pursue, because to me creativity IS play, or at least creating proceeds from a state of mind and playful approach to how we spend our time.


I'm not one who can force a painting or poem to happen by or at will, nor can I endure much if any suffering to sit down at the piano and pursue preparation for my next piano lesson or just "playing." I need to enjoy it, and nearly always I do! Some of my music-related poetry is humorous and reminds me to be humble in my late-life efforts to relearn the piano. But in all my efforts to create, I need to first be seized by delight or inspiration, a brand new idea that rivets my attention and deep thought, or clever wordplay of some magnificent writer or essayist who catches my attention.


Once The Duchess arrived to live with me in April 2022 and I found a new piano teacher (I had been on my typical four-to six-month break which is beneficial to allow me to consolidate and practice what I have learned in the preceding six months of lessons), I promptly started dressing up my piano with colorful scarves, then stuffed animals, silk flowers, trinkets and jewels, and decorations that fit a particular seasonal theme I chose for many lessons.


Soon enough I began assuming different theatrical roles and dressing up accordingly, depending on the time of year or the genre of piece I was learning to play. I thought The Duchess was particularly engaging in her Christmas 2022 outfit!


I was encouraged to continue these gentle theatrics by the delight of my new teacher. I also realized that just like in writing fiction or poetry, pretending to be a certain character during my piano lessons removed me one degree to a psychological place of safety so that I could hear my teacher's criticism and feedback and not get down on myself. It was as if another person who was not me, was hearing it and thus, insulating me from self-doubt. This allowed me to concentrate on the objective facts required for improving over time.


On two October lessons I dressed my piano and myself up in several unique costumes for Halloween, which is one of San Francisco's favorite holidays.



At the beginning of one late October lesson I explained to my teacher that I was unable to learn my rhythm lesson during homework that prior week because Herman the Bat had come to roost on and prevent access to "The Generalissimo" (name I had previously given my you-know-what):


Perhaps my favorite character who sat in for me on two piano lessons, was Countess Anya Pianistska. Her best friend was the Lady von Meck, the famed patron of dear Tchaikovsky. She was the lady who curiously required that they never meet but only correspond until her patronage ended 12-years later. (They did meet by chance twice but only in passing in public). The Countess was morose because her bestie von Meck had recently experienced the death of her Tchaikovsky and the Countess had just attended his funeral with her friend. By the next lesson the Lady had gone off to Paris to drown her sorrow in a huge shopping spree. The occasion for this particular character inspiration was that I had chosen to learn Tchaikovsky's lovely short piece "Chanson Triste" and needed the appropriate inspiration to be sad and grieving. The role helped!


This particular story, of course, took a few piano lessons to play out and also tell the continuing saga, including one night in Paris when Lady von Meck met a French prince at the opera she was attending, someone who swept her off her feet and into his country chateau for at least a few months' dalliance of great pleasure. For all I know, the Lady is still there, hanging out with the Prince...


Because my teacher enjoyed my dressup efforts, I was convinced that I had a "winner" and could settle into a long-term relationship because we both valued play. However, when it got to the learning process via zoom during the pandemic, their method of teaching turned out to be distressingly serious and oriented to "productivity," fast action, and doing it the "easy" way--always his way and never mine.


I love this public presentation by Jon Batiste (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uG7P9H_P_ps) one of my favorite "modern" pop-jazz pianists and artists, wherein he shares with music students what he has learned about making music for so many years (he's now 36). He says that music is "just about having fun" and that the "end result is not as important as the process." Because the above teacher did not agree with Jon--or me--and although I gave it the old college try for nine painful months, I did move on with a great deal of relief to my musical spirit (a story told in another blog).


I readily admit that now in retirement--and as Cindy Lauper more-or-less said in her classic song--"this girl {now} wants to have fun" in lessons and in life! And I do not believe that productive learning is antithetical to, or separate from, enjoying the process!


I've always loved articles by serious musicians that demonstrate a keen sense of humor and even a wee bit of self-deprecation that keeps one humble and in a learning mode. Janet Horvath, a cellist, and Maureen Buja, a pianist, are two regular contributors for Interlude online music journal and I always love reading what they write. Visual humor that I often find in that journal, or in clothing focused on pianists, delights me and when not playing a specific character role, I might choose to wear something humorous:


Perhaps my favorite of all time images found on the Interlude journal, are the below images, especially the final one which is suitable for my upcoming November birthday celebration. I'm sure I'll find one way or the other to introduce it, since music is the theme for my special evening celebration with a number of besties I've made over eight decades, or recently as new treasures in my life. I always remember the adage, "Make new friends, but treasure the old; one is silver and the other is gold!"





FOOD FOR THOUGHT


I’d like to be arpeggiated, perhaps even massiagiated, definitely satiated and maybe even marinated?


I’d like some rubato, on my hamburger, a tomato, possibly a baked potato and certainly a legato.


Study me an etude, dance me a pavanne, circle me a rondo, then feed me a flan.


Nothing’s better than music to feed the soul or when eating whipped cream as a concerto unfolds.


THOUGHTS OF A PIANO TEACHER


She’s a virtuosa in the making, while her soda bread is baking; she first practices her tempo, then goes on to knead dough, but in both, I think she’s faking.

(To which my teacher said "fake it til you make it!")


THE MEDICATION SOLUTION

I may need a Valium or an Ativan would do. Perhaps a Prozac? But a Mary Jane would, too, to prepare me for my lesson on my trusty piano, though the lessons on rhythm go agonizingly slow. I may need a fan or a pillow for my head, after a rhythm struggle when I wish I were dead, feeling I’ll faint or I’ll cry, or fall down on the floor and kick and then scream to even the score with my teacher, though he’s usually quite jolly, as I pursue my folly to learn some more basics and just how to play– after what? No less than a 63-year delay!


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