Monday 12 November 2018

Me vs The Piano Recital

I used to play piano, and my mother and I never agreed on how my end-of-the-year recital went. 
Here is that story.

I was young, ten maybe? I can't remember...time is hard. I do know that at some point in my early life, I took one single year of piano lessons. No more, no less. To be fair, my sister managed exactly one single lesson, before throwing the mother of all fits and getting out of my parent's "you must commit to a year of whatever activity you chose to do" rule, so I get some moral high ground for making it as long as I did. She did something similar for skating lessons, again skirting the rule that I was consistently held to.  My little sister could basically get away with murder. #oldersiblingproblems

But I digress.

Like most kids who have never played the piano a day in their lives, I began with the musical equivalent of a See Jane Run book, playing hits like Twinkle Twinkle and Row Row Row the Boat. Classics. I wasn't even bad at it,  which I believe was at least in part due to my freakishly long fingers, which give me just over an octave span. My grandmother was elated that I'd taken up piano, as she was a very accomplished pianist, and my mother had evidently failed by not taking up that mantle. Maybe I would be a prodigy.

Unfortunately for all involved, prodigies usually need some music reading skills and basic coordination, which was never something I was at all well equipped to deal with. I could, however, memorize things very well for short durations of time (a skill which would come in very handy in university testing scenarios). This meant that once I had painstakingly written out all the notes on the page and practiced ad nauseum so my left and right hands could function independently of each other, I could play it pretty well.

This ability gave my teacher the completely misguided impression that I was good at playing piano. I was not. I was good at memorizing a song for a period of time. He, however, failed to pick up on this and subsequently increased the difficulty level of my music selections rapidly. I went from learning to play basic scales, to playing Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid, and Everything I Do by Bryan Adams for the final recital. 

And I could play them. In very specific, low stress circumstances. A piano recital is not low stress. It is the antithesis of that. 

My mother's recollection of the recital was that I went on stage and did a surprisingly good job of playing what would be considered difficult pieces of music for a beginner. I contend that she was wearing rose coloured glasses: parent edition. She does admit that at one point in the mermaid piece, I got stuck in something of a loop, and may have played the chorus a couple of times before finding my way to the finish line. But she claims that at no time did it sound like a gathering of elephants simultaneously dying from a respiratory infection. 

I disagree.

My recollection of events is a bit darker, and the glasses less rosy. I clearly remember starting off well, and being like "yeah, this might be ok", at which point in my hubris, the wheels fell right the hell off.  The mermaid piece was, to be fair, recognizable, and I do remember something about a loop. I think I panicked and just replayed the only part I remembered over and over again until I felt that the piece had gone on long enough to resemble something close to the actual song in length, if not in actual musicality. Final chord, end. 
If only I could have just read the music, I could have saved it, but I couldn't, so I had only my terror-stricken memory of what it should sound like to rely on. 
It's possible I just screamed LOOK AT THIS STUFF, ISN'T IT NEAT at the top of my lungs  a couple of times and then tried to melt into the floor. It's all a bit fuzzy. 

But then came Bryan Fucking Adams. I hate him. 

Everything was fine, until it wasn't. Where is Greensleeves when you need it!!??? I don't really remember much about what, specifically, went wrong, just that it all went catastrophically wrong very quickly. This was a complicated piece of music I should never have tried to play under pressure, and I have no idea what kind of stroke my teacher had that caused him to make this critical error in judgement. 

All I remember is banging on the piano hoping to find at least a couple of notes in common with the actual sheet music. I had no idea where I was, I didn't flip a single page of music, and if the song was recognizable for what it was, I would be shocked. I just. hit. keys. 
For, like, three whole minutes. 
After that I pretty much just ran from the stage and burst into tears. I never went back. 

Everything I Do, I Do It For You was a terrible song, created by a terrible man, for a terrible movie, about some guy who (probably) did terrible stuff with a bow and arrow. To this day I can't listen to this song without flashbacks to the recital. 

But now I'm a rational adult, who is very bored during recovery from surgery, and I've had an out of tune piano gathering dust in my basement for two years for literally no reason, as no one in our family plays piano. I've decided to try again. 

And so in honour of this newfound motivation to not suck at something, my  husband bought me a piano book. It's basically perfect.  It insults your general lack of musical skill while trying to teach you how to be less awful at it. It even comes with drink recipes for when you're absolutely ready to rage quit and watch the world burn!

Surprising no one more than myself, I am not even completely terrible (which you should in no way interpret to mean I am any good, I'm just less bad than I'd assumed I'd be after 25+ years). I can play a scale like a boss, I can still memorize a page of music in a surprisingly short period of time, and I know what a time signature is, which helps a lot. 

Unfortunately, my overall music reading skills have not improved despite years of disuse, and I am painfully slow at working through a piece. My hands can't multitask, and I still have to write out most notes so I can play something besides a halting death march. 

The book accurately describes me a mentally underachieving pianist, and I haven't even reached the chapter on accidentals yet. I'm convinced that musicians who use them are complete sadists. Reading music is hard enough as it is without having to mentally transpose every G into a G# for an entire piece (...and that is not a hashtag, you insufferable teenagers).  

Overall, this should be an interesting experiment in teaching an old dog new tricks, but this time I'm skipping the damn recital!


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