Friday, July 5, 2019

Are we having fun yet?

They used to say the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. I'm not sure if anybody knows what grass is anymore because we're always looking at our phones. But the idea was that everything looks better to you except your own situation. If you somehow got on the other side of the fence, that is, wound up in a different situation, you would find that it wasn't as terrific as you supposed.

Quite a number of people, on the outside looking in, imagine that being able to play the piano for a living is a pretty wonderful gig. I'm not going to argue. For one thing, it won't change anybody's mind: see the whole thing with the grass. For another, they're right. At least, to a degree.

It is nice to be able to sit down at a musical instrument and competently produce sound whenever you want to. Of course, you don't just get to do it whenever you want to. It is regulated. Which means you now have a series of deadlines, performances, and pressures related to said relaxing activity.

At the most basic level everybody gets what it is like to show up to work when you don't feel like it. For some people that is practically all the time. Others are more fortunate. In principle, most musicians love what they are doing. They may or may not love actually doing it while they are doing it.

Again, most people can relate to the whole being nervous in front of an audience thing, or having to have your homework done by a particular date, when the homework is something that may be reviewed by hundreds of people sitting watching you give your presentation for an hour or so at a piano. The thing is, grass being pretty much the same color everywhere, people tend to assume that the guy up on the stage appearing to have a good time is actually having a good time. Which, speaking from long experience, I can assert, is sometimes true, and sometimes isn't.

I bring this up because last Thursday's organ recital was of particular interest to me precisely because I remember spending bits of it trying to relax and enjoy myself. I hate being nervous (who doesn't) and I'd rather be able to project some of that musical joy on my own person while I'm at it. The program in question was on the lighter side, too, so the effect should have been one of having a musical good time. Also, since I'd managed, rather miraculously, to be adequately prepared for this third different recital program in as many weeks, there wasn't any good reason to panic. I told myself that, and I was, to a large degree successful at managing my mood. This, in turn, probably helped to make the performance work.

Being housed in a human body means any number of strange conditions may visit you in the course of a day, and being called on to perform at a particular time on a particular day come what may means you will inevitably be in pretty much all of them at some point. Some of them can be lived with, some have to be overcome.

Then, of course, there is the effect of giving several performance close together. Wanting to just be able to relax and learn new music without the pressure of deadlines, because deadlines are stressful, and the grass is greener when you get to do what you aren't doing (learning new music is actually not that much fun when I think about it). Trying to set aside the cumulative effect of tiredness and continual extra practice, mental discipline, dealing with side issues, and the like.

Learning to relax and enjoy what you are doing when you are doing it is an art that can take a lifetime to learn. Sometimes the difference between giving an adequate performance and a great performance is exactly the difference between being afraid and letting go and doing it.

I gave that speech to myself at Carnegie Hall once. Then I came home, and a day later was accompanying somebody for a voice lesson. For some reason the teacher, telling her student to relax, told her, "don't worry. This isn't Carnegie Hall."

Ah, but it is. And it isn't. And it really doesn't make a difference. All the world's a stage anyway.

Get comfortable.

pianonoise is back for another week of musical hootenanny. Check out the homepage of

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