Thursday, February 4, 2010

Story #28 The Ivory Keys

You know, I sort of started this 40 stories for my 40th for a couple of reasons. One was to get myself writing on a regular basis and getting down some memories, another was sort of a "this is me" portrait. A way to see how I ended up where I ended up and to be okay with that place. A lot of stories are funny, but many are difficult stories. I haven't written many of the difficult ones because I don't want to put others in my life in a less than stellar light. So I feel very conflicted. I have always believed that with journal keeping you should be yourself, the good, the bad and the ugly. How else will our children and others learn how we hopefully rise above problems - and how we all experience difficult times? Too often during emotional times, people are afraid to share how they feel - afraid they are the only ones to feel that way - afraid to look foolish or strange - wouldn't it be nice to know you are not alone? I heard in a lesson at church that we should always keep our journal entries positive....I thought that was...well...idiotic. We wouldn't be able to bask in joy if we hadn't experienced some pain, right? Don't worry, though, I will try to the skeleton displays in my own closet - not yours.

I come from a very musical family. Music has just always been and continues to be a part of our lives. The fact that I have a semi-grand harp and a baby grand piano on 40 year old carpet should let you know where our priorities lie. I am very happy that my talented daughters are continuing the musical tradition!

I started to play the piano around the age of 8. My mom never had to tell me to practice because I was always competing for piano time with my brother and sister. When something seems unattainable, it becomes more enticing! (Now you are all trying to figure out how to get that situation going with your kids, right?) I liked piano right off the bat. My first teacher's name was Lori and Marc and I both took lessons from her. Lisa didn't enjoy lessons - I think she maybe took a year? But, of course she was the one that could and still does, just listen to a song and sit down and play it. No fair.

Anyway, we took from Lori for some time and then stopped for awhile. I went through one more teacher before I started taking from Beverly Smurthwaite. I loved taking lessons from her. It wasn't long before I found that playing the piano was a great emotional outlet. I didn't always feel like I could let my true feelings out at home - but the piano was always a great source for releasing joy, anger, depression, and happiness. Mrs. Smurthwaite seemed to sense what an emotional release the piano was for me and we spent a lot of time exploring different composers for the types of emotions they elicited. Because of this I felt a very deep connection with her. Our lessons each week felt like some kind of musical therapy and in those teen years you need that!

The problem was I suffered from performance anxiety. I thought "Why do I become so incredibly terrified to play in front of other people?" My siblings would frequently seem quiet and shy - but then - put a mic in front of them and they would come to life! I wanted the piano equivalent of that...maybe if I had been shy that would have happened. But when your older siblings make you go up to the clerk in a store to ask questions - or to be the one to ask where the restrooms are - you get over the shy thing rather quickly.

I soon became the designated accompanist for family performances - that wasn't so bad. I knew I wasn't the main event...I just had to try and make the singer look good - but to play a solo? Terrifying! My hands would shake so much that I could barely get the keys to press down. Of course, the more anxious I became about the shaking, the more I would begin to forget what I was playing....leading to one horrid performance after the other. Since I had this pathological desire to live up to Lisa and Marc's ability to perform I continued in a cycle of self-induced piano panic.

In my junior year of high school I had spent months working on Mozart's Fantasia in D minor. I loved this piece!! (I still do.) It had these amazing runs that made me feel like I could play anything. Mrs. Smurthwaite, knowing of my tendency to panic, spent many lessons helping me get comfortable performing the piece. I thought maybe, just maybe, this piece would be my break through moment. I would conquer my fears! At the recital I walked bravely up to the piano. My heart beat was calm, I felt almost relaxed, until I pressed the first key. The piano I was playing on had incredibly stiff keys. The recital took place at a local church and it became clear that the organ was the instrument of choice. To get any tone out of the piano took immense finger strength.....I felt doomed. There was no way I was going to be able to perform the runs at the necessary lightning speed. I stumbled through the performance, on the verge of tears the entire time. As I finished, instead of walking back to sit with my parents, I immaturely ran out to the car. I was so embarrassed.

At the end of the recital one of the other students, an adult woman, came to the car and told me she loved my performance. I looked at her like she was crazy. She said, "I know it didn't come out the way you wanted it to, but the emotions you were able to convey through the music touched my heart. I just wanted you to know." Hmm.

As years went by, I couldn't seem to shake my inability to perform a piano solo or accompany someone, without making error after error, until about 10 years ago. A neighbor of mine asked me to accompany her while she sang to a group of retired folks who met at church every Monday night. I practiced hard. It was a challenging accompaniment and I didn't want to do anything that would distract from her singing. As I took my place at the piano I said a small prayer and began to play. As I played I began to realize that these people weren't listening for mistakes, but simply grateful for the performance. I felt this wonderful sense of love and appreciation as I played for my friend Kathy. I had never played so well. I didn't make one mistake - I think Kathy was as shocked as I was. But instead of feeling proud, I simply felt grateful for the experience. I realized that playing was not a way to bring positive or negative attention to myself, but a gift that I could give to the kind souls who would listen to me play. I can still picture the faces of the people in that room - and I try to remember that feeling whenever I have the opportunity to play.


Jill said...

I love all of these stories of yours and think it's so great that you've been able to remember them and then write them in such a pleasing way.

My personal journal writings have always been nothing but negative because that was the only place I could pour out all my frustrations. I'm torn between wanting to burn those pages and wanting to keep them. But it makes no sense at all to me to only write the most positive things because that's just not real.

ohiolanges said...

I love learning from you. Thanks.

Amy said...

I am so jelaous of anyone who is musically inclined, and know that I appreciate their talent. I didn't even know you played. Way to overcome the fear though.

michelle said...

I agree with you on journal entries. I think they should portray our full range of emotions.

I had absolutely no idea about your piano anxiety! I always think you play beautifully. I love the woman who came out to tell you that she was touched by your performance.

michelle said...

p.s. Being a good accompanist is a great skill. And I'm not just saying that because it's the only thing I'm good at...