Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Greetings from the Plateau of Piano Mediocrity!

I made a recording for you to commemorate my arrival here. Here, give it a listen, and tell me what you think: link - House of The Rising Sun from Alfred's Book 2

The Plateau of Piano Mediocrity is not such a bad place, really. Quite crowded though. And from the looks of things, lots of folks have been here a long time... some seem resigned to spending the rest of their lives here.

Looking back, I see that my trip began down in the Valley of Piano Discovery. The road rises quickly at first, but then gradually settles onto the Plateau. The subtle decrease in grade makes it hard to pinpoint exactly where the Valley ends and the Plateau begins. But after awhile, there is no mistaking that, though you’re making plenty of lateral progress, the terrain isn’t taking you any higher.

Way off in the distance, I see the Hills of Piano Excellence, and, past those, the Peaks of Piano Virtuosity. I would like to think I am headed in that direction, but the way is shrouded in a deep fog, and I am not entirely certain how to get there from here. Michael Stipe says it can't be done. I guess I'll keep on taking one uncertain step at a time. At least I can see that far.

Ok, so the metaphor only works to a certain point, I admit. But the truth is, it doesn’t feel to me that I am making a lot of progress these days. Plenty of reasons for this, of course… mostly having to do with schedules, travel*, work… you know, life. But it doesn’t change the self-perception that I am pretty much the same piano player I was a year ago… certainly the same one I was six months ago… At this rate, Chopin and Liszt are going to have to wait a long time for me to catch up with them.

* I’m doing my best to squelch a whiny post about traveling for work… truth is, I should be thankful that I have a job. But be warned, I may lose this argument with myself, and whine in an unseemly manner.

What makes me feel this way? A couple of things. First, it seems to me that it is taking a longer-than-expected period of time to pick up new pieces. Second, the added time I spent polishing pieces I think I've learned isn't really making them sound that much better.

Consider this recording I’ve attached. On the one hand, there is a lot to like about it. The phrasing is nice, and I added an 8va section (that's the higher part in the second half) that, to my ears, gives it a little bit of life that the original Alfred's version lacked. That's all good. Problem is, I worked for three weeks to get it to this point. One week to learn it, and two weeks trying to iron out wrinkles and eliminate pauses. Those two weeks produced no observable results. To me, it sounds hesitant and timid. It also sounds like another hour or two would fix that right up, but I'm telling you, it won't. This is as good as I can get it, and, until further notice, it ain't getting any better.

Likewise, it is taking a very long time to learn some of the Christmas pieces I’ve been assigned in Bastien Book 4, and also the Clementi Sonatina. It takes me a month or more to get those things down. In my mind, the music doesn’t seem that difficult, so it shouldn’t take so long. But the mechanics of making the fingers consistently go to the right places aren’t coming easily.

There is one more important point to be made here: I believe this is perfectly natural. Most learning involves an initial period of rapid acquisition, followed by a longer, perhaps even indefinite, period of perfecting some basic skills while slowly acquiring new ones. I get it. I am experiencing, I assume, the same feelings that everybody goes through when they pick up the piano later in life*. My hunch is that the vast majority succumb at this point, and accept that this is the musician they were meant to be. I’m going to continue to plug away, hoping to finish Alfred’s Book 2 some time mid-next year, and Book 3 another year after that.

* - Except for the select few who are naturally gifted… I'm looking at you, Tim Moriarty, hello!

Liszt and Chopin can wait for me. They've got time on their hands, to be sure. Good thing, because those Peaks are way far off in the distance.

- Aw2pp, who remembers something about slow and steady winning the race...

1 comment:

Michelle Himes said...

I thought I had commented on this several days ago, but I guess it didn't take. :-)

Everything I play sounds hesitant and timid, but I thought you played this very well. You are a lot younger than I am, so I'm sure you will eventually come out on the other side of mediocrity as an accomplished pianist. I'm hoping to one day achieve mediocrity. LOL

Actually, that's not really true. I may only reach intermediate pieces, but my goal is to play them very well.