A new musical friend somewhere in his midlife and a former piano teacher, and I were chatting about music, when I outlined a few of the types of pieces that really please me to learn these days, as has been true since I came back to the piano during pandemic. I mentioned that I prefer lyrical, melodious pieces usually composed at an andante cantabile pace and no more. We had been discussing the (to me) bizarre finger technique that pianist Martha Argerich sometimes uses called the "praying mantis" fingers to execute super fast tempos, which I'm sure would ruin my hands again and bring on tendinitis I just got over two months ago.
Not knowing me and not inquiring how I came to my tempo or genre preferences, one of his responses was:
Why limit yourself? Don’t be so sure. You might discover a gorgeous piece one day that happens to contain a fast passage, and you just might fall in love with it so much that you feel you must learn it. It could happen and love is a powerful motivator. No need to approach the future with blinders on. Be open to discover your full potential. It’s a wonderful process. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” ― Rosalind Russell as Mame Denis in the film “Auntie Mame” (1958).
I had to chuckle. I'm not sure how much more I can do to "discover my full potential" and explore the wonderful process of living than I am already doing ROTFLMAO! I could leave it at the fact that I'm prepping at age 80 to get in shape to start beginning belly dance lessons...
True enough we had met only once, and after offering the above advice, he said he had no clue about my age. I told him he had already done some admirable teaching when a few weeks ago he introduced me -- for the first time in my life -- to Scriabin's romantic first period of composition! How had I missed Scriabin? I immediately ordered the two page score of the gorgeous Prelude in Gb Major (the amazing pianist is Paul van Bledel) that I believe I can accomplish without too much difficulty.
About a year ago I answered almost exactly the same as I answered my friend, but this time my adviser was a music professor around age 40 from the UC Berkeley School of Music. Again, without even meeting me, in an early email exchange he launched into telling me I "should" explore Mozart and Bach and Brahms and (fill in the blanks)."
How is it that music professors or teachers seem to know so much about me and what I "should" do?
A pianist friend more advanced in pianism than me but about the same age, and I have the same feelings toward what we want to take on and learn -- right now, where we are sitting in life. She wants to study and learn what she wants to study and learn -- and I support her fully in that! I get it.
So I answered my new friend as follows:
"Excellent question— and I have an excellent answer!
I don't equate making thoughtful choices that make me extra happy with limiting anything —but rather going for the gold— my personal gold -- and goal.
"I’m 80. I believe people my age have an entirely different perspective from 70 or 60 or 50 - year olds. Often it is hard even for those ten years younger to understand, but perhaps you will one day.
"I see the value of every day or moment, and there is not enough time realistically envisioned and hoped for, to learn every key, every scale, every composer, every piece — or every tempo and every finger technique that I don’t really love or that makes me feel uncomfortable or believe or suspect that it may endanger my hand health.
"The past few years I’ve turned into a total hedonist. If I don’t swim in the deep end of happiness and run to The Duchess to apply my present skills that are slooowly growing in technique and musicality, if I don't right now explore what makes me so very happy (not just curious, frustrated, or ‘happy’) — well, why bother?
"I’m not pursuing music to be depressed, unhappy, or to waste precious time. To an older adult (sometimes called "late life" or more pejorative terms!), there is a huge difference in relation to music from being on a certain concert track or at an early adult life stage. For me learning and listening to music is and must remain pure pleasure. Any serious stress is a risk to my hand health and my spirit will inevitably be damaged and turn into physical pain just like it did from continuing stress in lessons with the wrong teacher.
"But this teacher gave me several sound words of advice, perhaps the best being, “Ann - there is so much great music out there - we will find things that easily fit you to learn”— and we did!"
And I've chosen my next two challenging pieces that I dearly love, to learn soon: "Mallorca" by Spanish composer Albeniz (performed by Luis Fernando Perez, an Albeniz specialist), and "None but the Lonely" said to be based on a poem by Goethe, from Six Romances by Tchaikowsky, the one composer whose melodies most satisfy my spirit and whose scores fit my hand exceedingly well. (The pianist of the Tchaikowsky piece is a trauma surgeon, whose passion is in music, and collecting music scores. He spends his free time playing and recording the music from his extensive score collection. The violinist is a nurse, a violin performer and a violin teacher; Chiu Ming-Terk (Pianist) Su Zheng (Violinist) )
Two pieces that are a bit wistful and some might say "wistful at best"? Yes! Anticipating being able this year to play those two pieces makes me really happy (just like spring, right around the corner!)
I hope you are going for your gold!