Saturday, November 7, 2009

So, now what?

I played for a colleague's memorial service today. Reasonably easy gig, technically speaking; prelude, accompany a duet, accompany a chorus, postlude. Organ blew out a lung earlier that week, so one of the divisions was missing. An expressive division, too, one I was hoping to use. Oh well... Not so big a deal, I've done more with less interesting instruments. And there was still plenty of satisfying registration to be worked with.

Prelude was basically fine. Had to cover an extra ten minutes unexpectedly (crowd kept coming in, they had to "hold the curtain"). Not a problem, I do this sort of thing all the time. I can play until the cathedral burns.

Well, not exactly "not a problem." Keeping the music going, that was no problem. Hitting the right pedal notes was a bit of an issue, not so bad because everything I was playing was simple and slow, but still, too many "almost right" notes for my comfort. Finding the swell shoes (the pedals that change the volume), that was the problem. A big problem. Far too many times I thought that I hadn't moved my foot off the pedal, but somehow it had moved, and it was in the wrong place, and when I thought I was opening the swell box, nothing happened. Too many instances of "What's going on? ... oh, that's why nothing's happening." Nobody but me noticed what had happened, I covered every problem, worked it into whatever I was playing at the time so it was, as we say in IT, "a feature, not a bug," but still... that was bad. Losing control of the instrument, especially in the middle of a performance, is bad. And not simply "bad," it's very, very uncomfortable.

Went to the piano to accompany the chorus. Right foot kept slipping off the damper pedal. Couldn't tell when my foot was on the pedal or off, or on the right place on the pedal to be able to work it properly, and often when I thought I was pushing down, nothing was happening. Had to keep looking at my right foot to see what was going on, I couldn't feel what it was doing. Nobody but me noticed the problem, and the rest of my playing was just fine, but still... as far as I was concerned, it was bad.

The postlude: Got started OK. Was planning on doing some melodic things in the pedals. I've played this piece many, many times before. Except, apparently, not today. I had to do a lot of "course corrections" because my feet wouldn't hit the pedals the way I wanted them to. Didn't help that the crowd was taking way too long to exit the building... Pasadena Civic auditorium, holds at least 2,000 people, they clear out in about ten, eleven minutes. This church, holding maybe 700 at most, took at least fifteen. When every moment you're fighting the instrument, spending most of your energy trying to keep the piece moving and keeping your lack of control completely hidden, it doesn't leave a lot of your brain available to create lovely moving music. Functional music, that you can do, but really good music--nope.

So, a success from the audience's point of view. Everyone loved the service. Nobody but I knew how much I was struggling. So, in that sense, a complete victory. But, you know, I'm not sure what I really feel about what happened today.

In one way: "Oh well." I don't think I'm exactly depressed about what happened, possibly because I kept it going so well, that's certainly a triumph, but I do have to tell you that leaving rehearsal the other day, having been unable to work the piano's damper pedal nearly at the "can't work it AT ALL" point... I did ask myself, out loud, "Do I really want to keep playing music, if this is the way it's going to be? Maybe I don't want to do music any more, if this is the way it's going to be..."

"Just giving up" is the wrong answer. "Ignoring what happened" is the wrong answer. But leaping up like the heroes of Les Miserables hoisting the flag at the barrier and singing, swearing that I'm going to hold the line or die trying... well, I definitely ain't doing that. Is that the right answer, and I'm just not willing to do it? I don't know... Am I just out of practice, will that solve my problems, is that all that's missing? I don't know...

There's an option I'm not seeing.

I think I need to let this sit for a while, and just keep my mind open.

But this was a very uncomfortable day.


Denver Refashionista said...

Be flexible and celebrate what worked, don't dwell on what didn't. MS will and does change things. Be graceful in the face of change. Things may go but they also may come back. Don't get down, don't give up. Like the bow you shoot, you will have to bend so as not to break.

Robert Parker said...

And there's also one of the greatest one-sentence teachings of kyudo:

Shoot again.