By TIMOTHY MANGAN
Well, that went fast. Lee Ann and I looked at each other at the end of the piano lesson — my eighth and last in this little experiment — with something approaching confusion. Shouldn’t the moment be marked in some way, with a fanfare from atop a mountain or cupcakes? I gave her my thanks and told her I’d see her next week at the recording session. She said if I ever wanted to continue with lessons to give her a call.
I just might some day. For now, I’m thinking about laying down my tracks, to use the lingo, next week. I’ll play two of Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos”: No. 71, “Thirds,” and No. 77, “Little Study.” With Lee Ann, I’ll play three numbers from Stravinsky’s Five Easy Pieces for piano four hands: Andante, “Balalaika,” and “Galop.” (The other two proved a little too tricky for me.) I’ll finish with the Prelude No. 1 in C from Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” All together, it’s only a few minutes of music. But quite a lot of work has been put into learning them.
My performances of said pieces are not perfect at this time, but they have improved markedly in eight weeks. Which is satisfying. And they have improved to the degree that they have not only because of Lee Ann’s teaching but also because of her mere presence. When taking lessons, the weekly session becomes something like a performance in that the student wants to perform, and perform well, for the teacher. You’ve practiced (though never enough, it seems) and you want to show your progress or your mastery.
That the lesson is a kind of performance is proven by how badly you play. That is to say, you never play as well for your teacher as you have at home, by yourself, without pressure. I’m not saying I was nervous playing for Lee Ann, but I was self-conscious to a degree. My concentration was split. When I made a mistake, I found myself saying “sorry” out loud to her, as I was playing. She deserved better.
In my former life as a music major and professional trombonist, I don’t think that I suffered from nerves any worse than anyone else. I did have them, though, in certain performance situations, just as most musicians do. You have to make an effort to master them, or else you’ll play poorly. Those efforts take many forms of course. I remember reading W. Timothy Gallwey’s “The Inner Game of Tennis” and getting help from it. (I think I’ll dip in again this week, and get into the zone for the recording session.) I also remember practicing pieces and sections of pieces until it was just about impossible to mess them up, no matter how hard they were. I like the saying: “Amateurs practice till they get it right; professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong.” It’s true.
All of which makes me wonder if I’ll continue to pursue my piano studies on my own. Without the motivation of a weekly lesson, will I really sit down for a practice session after a hard day at work? Without the motivation of performance — even if it’s just playing for the teacher — will I push ahead to polish a piece that I’m working on, or will a mediocre run-through be enough? (As a writer, I’ve done most of my writing on a deadline. Without deadlines, I know that I would have written a fraction of what I have written. That’s probably why no one ever writes that novel they’ve always dreamed of writing. No deadline.)
In the meantime, I’ve ordered Volume 3 of “Mikrokosmos” from Amazon. I’ll leave it there, sitting on the piano, calling to me to come and play it. We’ll see what happens.
The exact date of the recording session has yet to be cemented, but it should be next week. I met with Ian, the engineer at OCMD’s recording studio, gave him some possible times and he’ll get back to me. We’ll then share the results with you as soon as they’re ready.
Meanwhile, here’s one of the Stravinsky pieces, “Galop,” that Lee Ann and I are hoping to record. My part is relatively easy; hers is difficult. I made her practice.