Friday, December 20, 2013


Last week I was visited by some microscopic bugs. They came in the night and were already holding forth by the time last Friday's blog posted (you can set them for future publication). This caused a bit of a pause in my activities.

...Which are quite numerous this time of year as you might imagine. Nevertheless, my body did what it has done on several occasions in recent years when illness is involved. It said, in effect, you're worn out. You need a rest. Take a pause from all that stress and action. I insist.

That's pretty much the only way I'll stop sometimes. And it knows that. It might have had something to do with why I got sick in the first place. And so the Fall semester, that long out of control tobbagan ride, came to a crashing halt.

While I was convalescing I was trying to relax, not to worry about all the concerts and deadlines coming up. That has a funny way of stressing a person, particularly when there is no way to prepare for them. Even thinking about them was out of bounds to my nervous system. Just be. Make a break. Start over on the other side, mentally.

That didn't last very long. Every organization I work for has at least one Major Holiday Related Production. This year the Children's Chorus had five (I didn't have to play for all of them: they replaced me with a lousy 100-piece orchestra one of the times. Talk about no job security! I would grouse, amused. And I would be told something saccharinely sweet about it taking 100 people to replace me). Our church always has two, one for the choir to do the annual musical Sunday, and another for the Great Big Holiday Extravaganza Church Play with Music. That was last Sunday.

Every time I get sick I count the days before the weekend which is generally when I have my most essential bouts of activity. This time it was in the wee hour of Friday. That didn't leave a lot of time before the GBHECP with M. And one definitely can't miss that. For one thing, as with most (or all) of my jobs, I have no backup. The only person in the building who could have played the piano was thirty feet away corralling the kids (which includes making exaggerated motions and singing loudly when it is time to come in so that they will eventually join in before it is time to stop singing. I refer to the younger set only).

Fortunately this turned out to be one of those 24-hour deals that leave exhaustion in their wake for about a week. Which allowed me to crawl to the piano on Sunday and do what needed to be done. I called in dizzy for the first half of the three hour choir rehearsal that evening, but otherwise made it through the weekend intact, which gave me a few more days to get my groove back for the next push, more weekend services, a few rehearsals, and Christmas Eve.

Into the mix is a New Year's Eve concert I'm just now getting to practice for and which you'll hear about next Friday after I'm blogged out about Christmas. It's going to be a lot of fun. But first, a pause in the proceedings to relax and announce a pause in the proceedings. Even during a season such as this it is essential for a musician to be able to stop for a moment. Only a moment, perhaps. And then, mostly in the mind. But that is where it is most important.

In micro, this is also an important skill for pianists. When you do not need to exert pressure, you don't. When your fingers do not need to be extended, they relax. When you are between gestures, you make a break between them. Otherwise you stress your muscles and your playing sounds like a run-on sentence.

My teacher in college told me, as we were about to study a major piano concerto, that he was going to show me how to make these mental breaks. I think he forgot about his promise later on, but I learned anyhow. Or the lessons were so integrated I didn't notice. In any case, I figured it out. You can play long stretches of complex passage work with ease, or at least without getting hand cramps, if, and only if, you can find ways to relax in the midst of all that frenetic activity. In micro, and in macro.

So consider this a little pause from the rush of life, as chronicled in this blog, as well as in your own. I'll be back at it on Monday, pondering a selection for Christmas Eve, celebrating Christmas in pianosong on Wednesday (the blog will post automatically while we are flying over Missouri on our way to visit relatives) and back here on Friday to discuss my activities on New Year's Eve. I wish you a Merry, and illness-free, rest of your holiday season.

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