Monday, March 10, 2008

How do you learn to just let it go?

I speak Portuguese and Spanish. Well, at one time, anyway, I spoke Portuguese and Spanish. I minored in Portuguese in college, and played a season of basketball in a Brazilian league in São Paulo. Back then, my Portuguese was natural, and just rolled out without any thought as to grammar, vocabulary, or accent. For several years after this wonderful experience, I would seek out Brazilians and other Portuguese-speakers, and have conversations with them. Almost without exception, these wonderful and gregarious people would humor my attempts. On a couple of occasions, someone even expressed surprise that I wasn't, after all, a native brasileiro.

I left Brazil 19 years ago. Since then, my Portuguese has fallen into a decrepit state of disuse. Once in awhile, like at a restaurant or even at work, I will have an opportunity to dust off my old skills on a native Brazilian. This is almost always a bad idea. I find my Portuguese is now halting, indecisive, and, above all, requires a great deal of effort. I know what is happening... my brain is working overtime to decode and translate every word I say or hear. The running commentary in my head sounds like this: Is this a Spanish or Portuguese word? (The two languages share a lot of vocabulary.) Am I using the right verb tense? Why can't I keep my hands still while I am trying to speak?

It is an exhausting, labor intensive process, and I can't keep it up for more than five minutes at a time. I am sure that this would probably pass if I spent, say, a week re-immersed in the language, but that seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Why bring this up? Because I am finding my experience with Brahms' Lullaby feels a lot like trying to speak Portuguese. The tune is familiar, and not really that complicated. I am sure that with another, oh, 2 or 3 hours, I will be ready to move on from it. But, as I mentioned last time, it is very mechanical. In particular, the right hand moves around just a little bit in ways I have not yet had to attempt. I still make lots of errors, and it takes me probably twice as long to get through it as it should. But... when I do it best... when I come closest to getting it right... I find afterwards that my mind has sort of blanked out on it.

Stated another way: when I am trying to get through it, my mind is running a commentary, similar to what Alfred has suggested in earlier pages. Start with RH1 on E, move up a third with RH2, back down a third, OOM PAH PAH with the LH... and with enough practice, I will have committed these movements and coordinations to memory well enough to claim a victory. But man, I wish I could just CHOOSE to let everything go blank, and play the piece by feel, because that is when it goes best.

Problem is, I haven't yet figured out to choose this. My mind simply wants to give the marching orders.

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