Friday, July 26, 2019

Tumbleweed Season

When I lived in Illinois, several years ago, I thought of July as Tumbleweed Season. Meaning it was so quiet the calm was interrupted only by the occasional tumbleweed blowing through.

July was the time when everybody who could get out of town left for vacation, and activities mostly ceased in anticipation of the Great Fall Start-up. The Busy Time (that is, the Academic Year) had of course crept in both directions, running later in the year and swallowing June, and with the university students arriving in August it was no longer safe to take vacation so late in the summer because things were starting again earlier than they used to. That left July. Hot, placid, featureless, lonely July.

This year my July was crowned with a concert at St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh, the last of a series of five performances in a month, consisting of four different programs, on two distinctly different instruments (piano and organ). That hardly made it a month for lounging around.

And when I awoke from my temporary stupor there was a moment of reckoning. Because I like to panic early I realized I had better get started full speed on the programs for the fall. After the organ concert in September there is a series of five lecture recitals within the span of a month and another program on its heels. I have a couple of things in August, too, but they don't really count in the
category "additional preparation needed."

I am not a person who likes to brag-complain about how busy I am in order to sound like I have significance in the universe, however. Instead, I have been focusing on the importance of the quiet spaces in between the fevered activity. They are important, particularly when they are short-lived. A person who is full of tension all of the time is in trouble. And it is not a very useful strategy. Even playing the piano requires an awful lot of relaxation, balance, and poise. Amateurs who don't know how and where to relax remain amateurs. Complicated passages with gallons of notes will forever remain out of the reach of the tense. At every level, micro and macro, rest is important.

I was noticing this yesterday while practicing the piano. It surprised me how easy it felt. This may have been because, although I feel perfectly comfortable at the organ, only having one keyboard and much less for the feet to do suddenly seems really simple, now matter how many notes I shoot out of my fingers. There is also something about the touch of an instrument that lets you feel completely relaxed the moment you have discharged that light pinprick from your finger tips that sends the hammer bouncing up to meet the string. While it is in the air, like a cake in the oven, you don't need to do anything but let that process you've set in motion do its thing. Relaxation in the tiniest of spots, a fraction of a second here, and a fraction of a second there. It adds up.

It's a curious phenomenon. One can be responsible for a great deal of activity and yet feel very calm about it. It's a good way to play the piano, and to live life. Besides, I think stress is over-rated, don't you?

don't forget to check out when you have a chance. This month the radio program is music for the organ concert I gave in Upper St. Clair last month. The St. Paul concert will be available in a couple of weeks.

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