Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Sometimes in the frantic rush of life, the pressures of deadlines and events, lengthy to-do lists, and unexpected daily mini-crises, it is very difficult to really ENJOY my life. I just get so caught up and before I know it, the day, week, month, year is gone.

Recently I was reading in Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. In the book, she talks about the importance of savoring each moment. A pastor she knew once was asked what his most profound regret was looking back at his life. He answered, "Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I've ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing....Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out, I was throwing it away." Wow! That completely describes my life....I am always rushing from thing to thing, rarely being completely given to the thing in front of me...usually my mind is about 15 places all at once. I thought that was called multi-tasking! But maybe, it is keeping me from being aware of the blessings in this moment now. That is Ann Voskamp's solution to the problem of not enjoying each moment, of being caught up in the torrent of life ~ looking for the blessings in each minute, being aware. Consciously being aware of each moment, consciously seeking the beauty and blessings all around me.

Ann Voskcamp says, "Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respector of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter into time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I'm always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows."

~ May I live in the moment, in THIS moment. May I be aware. ~

Practice Makes Perfect

As much as I love the piano, there are still days when I don't feel like practicing. Comparing it to a long term relationship again, there are certainly days and times in any relationship when you do not feel like doing things for the other person whether it is doing household tasks, spending time with them, or being nice to them! Well, it is the same way with piano, there are days and times when I do not feel like doing what I know I need to do. But, just like in a relationship, love and committment is a choice, and when you don't feel like doing things for someone you love, you make a choice to do them anyway because you love that person. So, same for piano.

My teacher says that playing the piano is the hardest thing anyone can do because it is so complicated and demands so much on such a myriad of levels. And she also says that it is easy to put off practicing because it is so difficult and demands so much. Recently, I read a book called Note by Note by Tricia Tunstall. In the book, Ms. Tunstall explains why practicing is so challenging.

"...To strive for mastery at the piano, or any instrument for that matter, is really to redefine one's definition of 'hard.' Difficult passages must be broken down into their smallest parts and played - well, you know: over and over and over. When you think you cannot bear to play a passage one more time, you play it ten more times. Or twenty. If you have not maintained a meticulous, painstaking precisioon throughout those twenty times, you repeat it twenty times more. When you are tempted to give up and go make yourself a sandwich, there is no coach to stop you; you must be trainer and athlete, good cop and bad, all at once. It's a tall order for a disciplined grownup, much less for a [child]."

But practicing is necessary -

"An instrumentalist is an athlete. There is no way around the need for intense physical training; without it, the ability to play a Beethoven sonata is about as unlikely as the ability to pole-vault. But while pole-vaulters and soccer players and gymnasts usually practice together, a piano student practices his technical exercises alone, and it can feel like drudgery."

Nevertheless, practicing can be both intensely fulfilling and rewarding. I love a challenge and the piano constantly presents great challenges to overcome. I feel a great sense of accomplishment as I am able to play the pieces the way I hear them inside and as I am feel my technique getting better and stronger. Because there is no denying it - to be suberb at anything, you have to practice, practice, practice. Practice makes perfect!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Piano Lessons

Piano lessons are the joy and the curse of my life. I absolutely adore the piano - music is in my blood, and furthermore, I am NOT content to merely be mediocre at the piano. Every time, I try to do piano "just for fun," it just doesn't work, and I end up back at the same realization that the piano and I were not meant for a mere flirtatious fling but rather a serious, committed relationship. And with all serious, committed relationships, sacrifice is required. So, I pour blood, sweat, and tears, at times MANY tears, into the piano. The hours required to practice and drive to lessons (2 hours one way) put a strain on my already bursting schedule. The money required for high class lessons put a strain on my already tight budget. But, try as I might to leave the piano, it will not let me. You see, music is not just a part of me, it IS me. It is entertwined in the very core of my being, so much so that I can't always tell where I stop and music begins. And whenever I try to disengage myself from it, back off, relax, "be more realistic," as so many of my well-meaning friends and family members advise, I cannot bear it and find myself back again fully committed to insane hours of practice and striving after elusive perfection. You see, as much as it sometimes hurts to be so committed to piano, it hurts worse to NOT be. So, I guess I might as well as resign myself to it - Piano and I are together for Better or for Worse....Forever.

These quotes from Great Pianists Speak by Adele Marcus (who was by the way my teacher's teacher at Juillard) express a little of what I am feeling:

"You must have the craziness to go on continuously, whether you are sick, or you aren't sick, or you have a headache or you don't have a headache. You must have this sort of craziness to go on every day. If you don't have it, success is absolutely out of the question. When I say every day, it is not only two or three hours, it is your whole life. You have to dedicate everything; if not, you cannot do it....When they ask me 'What makes an artist?' I find that apart from this urge to express oneself, an absolute dedication and willingness to work like I-don't-know-what for hours without end, to build a repertoire, are the elements which are absolutely imperative. Together with all that is enormous sacrifice."

And yet - with all that sacrifice - it is still completely worth it. As Sergei Rachmanioff said, "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music."

In fall of 2009 I wrote the following words:

"What is it about piano that captivates me?? Why is it that no matter that I'm sleep deprived and brain dead, I am willing and even eager to come to the piano and endure vigorous mental and physical labor instead of resting or relaxing? Why is it despite the pain and pressure, the fatigue and rigor, I always desire, nay demand - MORE? Crank up the intensity another notch, push myself just that much harder - I can't stop and I can't get enough. Ever."

Playin' the fool at school

April Fool's Day just presents too many delicious opportunities for innocent mischief for a fun-loving soul like mine to miss. So, accordingly, as I realized April Fool's Day was rolling around again, I had to devise a devious plan to prank our headmaster, Mr. Bess. I spoke with the other teachers, and we came up with a brilliant though devilish plan. Here is how it all transpired:

Time: Friday, April 1, 2011, 7:30 am
Place: Byne Christian School

Teacher 1 (me) texts Mr. Bess informing him she is throwing up and has a fever and will not be able to come to school.

7:40 am - Teacher 2 texts him telling him they have a family emergency and will not be able to come in.

7:50 am - Teacher 3 texts him explaining their parents are in the hospital and they HAVE to go see them and guessed it....will not be able to come in.

7:51 am - Mr. Bess is frantically trying to find subs. Only one small problem - the school secretary is in on the joke and regretfully informs him that there are no subs to be found.

7:53 am - Mr. Bess' blood pressure rises dramatically.

7:59 am - Mr. Bess thinks his heart is going to come out of his chest.

8:03 am - Mr. Bess thinks he might have to call 911.

8:10 am - With students coming in five minutes and still no subs to be found, Mr. Bess considers asking parents in the parking lot to sub.

8:15 am - Teacher number 1 (me) drives into parking lot and prepares to exit vehicle to wait for other teachers so they can all surprise him together. At the same time, Mr. Bess heads into parking lot, blocking route of escape.

8:15 and 1/2 am - Teacher number 1 (me) tries to maintain a low profile inside her car, hoping Mr. Bess will not notice she is there.

8:16 am - Plan fails. Mr. Bess walks over to Teacher 1 (my) car. Teacher 1 is forced to open car door and say sheepishly, "Happy April Fool's Day, Mr. Bess!"

8:16 and one quarter am - Teachers 2 and 3 arrive and reiterate, "Happy April Fool's Day, Mr. Bess - we love you!"

8:16 and one half am - Pavement melts under Mr. Bess' feet.

8:17 am - Teachers now think they are having a heart attack and simultaeneously wish they had worn their running shoes that day.

8:18 am - Mr. Bess recovers his sense of humor. Teachers breathe sighs of relief as he laughs and agrees that it was a good joke.

The day continues. Teachers teach their classes and all is back to normal....or so it seems. But before the teachers leave that day, Mr. Bess warns them, "I will get even. You won't know when and you won't know how, but I WILL get even.

Teachers leave thinking that the Freedom to play April Fool's Jokes = Eternal Vigilance (or Eternal Terror, whichever way you want to look at it).