UNDERSTANDING THE BODY & FRAMING THE ISSUE
“You have a sound pedaling technique and appropriate expression of the feeling of the piece,” my online piano teacher had said on February 15, 2022. That was at the prior lesson when I had fallen apart trying for the first time to play by memory the three-page intermediate-level piano transcription of “Leibesleid” by famed violinist, Fritz Kreisler. Her words comforted me, and so after another week's practice, I was ready to try it again. (That was at the time a lesson on my high school spinet, "Ms. Bellamy", a 1953 Baldwin Acrosonic, said to be one of the highest quality pianos manufactured by any of many company in business at the time; pictured above). This time I successfully played it though once with only one or two wrong notes and no memory glitches, as I like to call them. Then I started to play it a second time as indicated in the score. Almost immediately I noted the strangest sensation! I was slightly trembling and I felt a kind of swishing around in my stomach, akin to, but not exactly like, a dizzy feeling. It wasn’t the same feeling I had experienced two weeks prior when I tried to play the piece. At that class my teacher had offered two suggestions for what to do if I experience this kind of shakiness or nerves. First, she said that often she chooses one thing to try to present and/or improve when she is playing a piece. She gave the examples of focusing on improving transitions between melodies or phrases, or when there is a key change, or playing staccatos a bit louder. Then, if she starts to feel shaky during a performance, she immediately brings her mind to that one thing, rather than focus on her body’s reactions. Second, she said she immediately starts to concentrate on dropping her forearms with relaxed hands onto the keys as she plays. For her, this physical practice reminds her to relax, and it works in the moment to dissipate her nerves. Today she offered different feedback: “This time in your first play-through you were very secure and smooth in transitions from one part to the other, or from one key to the next key signature. I could relax as I listened to you.” I was pleased to hear this because as I had played, I had heard it, too! But I wondered why I started in the second play-through to feel shaky? Later when I was discussing my reaction with my therapist, Cary, she asked me for more details about how my body felt. I seized on the word “vibrating,” and said that my feelings had nothing to do with nerves. This was an entirely new feeling; I had started to feel shaky after being successful! Cary suggested that often anxiety or nerves feel the same way as do excitement and elation. The mind interprets two distinct feelings as the same. I had not been nervous, but rather elated at playing the piece successfully and credibly from beginning to end, and for the very first time. Eureka! Her comment seemed accurate because when I got to the end of the first play-through, I thought to myself, “Wow! You did it! You felt joyful and expressive all the way through, you had no memory glitches, and you only played a wrong note or two. Great! Congrats! Now let’s do it again to the end.” Immediately after that, I started shaking like Jello. I learned I should not jump to conclusions and paint with broad negative strokes any particular feeling I have while playing the piano. I should not assume that I am nervous or anxious. In fact, my feelings might reflect something positive, as they had this time. Implementing these new strategies will help me continue with equanimity to the end of a presentation, whether or not feelings I notice are elation, or anxiety. Knowing that I could be experiencing positive just as well as negative feelings, helps me relax in the moment, and move on to a better overall performance.