Monday, May 26, 2008

Musical Musings

Tonight I was driving the kids home from our Memorial Day "Barbecue" at a friends house (we did grill, despite the overcast sky and periodic rain). Dave stayed at their house to help them hang a light fixture and I was taking the kids home, much after their bedtimes, to repair the damage of the late bed time as best I could. I was listening to music on my mp3 player through the car stereo, trying to keep Jackson distracted from crying, and one of the pieces from my graduate piano recital, Bach's Toccata in G Minor, came on. I almost skipped past it, thinking that it would be too heavy to listen to with tired kids at 9:30 pm on a school night, but I let it play for a moment, just to hear the opening flourish. I gave myself a perfunctory mental pat on the back, "Good job, Karen," and then went on with my drive now that the showy opening part had passed.

As I went on though, gradually, the music started to draw me in. I forgot for a moment that I was the person playing and just listened. It had been a long time since I had heard it. Unlike previous hearings, back when every note, dynamic marking and fingering were still deeply ingrained in my psyche, the dynamics, subtle nuances and improvised ornaments almost came as a surprise. I enjoyed the recording as a listener, regardless of who the performer happened to be.

It was one of those bittersweet moments. I was awed and appreciative of an artistic offering that was made by the very same hands that were now gripping the steering wheel of our mini-van, physically and metaphorically steering our little family along. Yet at the same time I wondered if I still even had the capacity to play like that anymore. Aside from the problem of being technically rusty, I sometimes doubt whether I even have the mental capacity to concentrate on such fine-tuned artistic details. Becoming a great performer is all about doing the last 1%, that final polish that makes it magical. Where do you find the strength to worry about the last 1% of artistic polish if you don't even have the energy to do the first 10% of cleaning your bathrooms? Is it a shame that the same brain cells that were once occupied with analyzing the seven different deceptive cadences that Bach uses in his Toccata are now filled up with care instructions from the wash labels on all the pieces of laundry that get dirtied in my house every week?

But not to digress... it was a really good performance and I really enjoyed listening to it. And contrary to all expectations, the kids didn't complain about listening to it. Jared even seemed to think it was pretty cool. "Hey Jared," I called out to the back seat, "guess who is playing this?"

"Who?"
"I am."
"What?" he said. "You are the person playing that piano??!"
"Yep," I responded, "I played this back when you were a baby still inside my tummy. I used to practice the piano a lot back then, hours and hours a day."
"Wow, this is a cool song," he said, sounding impressed with his mother.

We pulled into the garage and he climbed up into the front seat of the car and sat, listening to the end of the piece with me. We listened to the final flourish in the dark after the garage light turned off.

"Do you still have the music to that, mom? Do you think you could still play that?"
"I would have to practice to be able to play like that again. Maybe I should start practicing the piano again. Hmmm... maybe I should have to practice the piano before I can watch TV, just like you." I teased.
"That's a good idea, mom," he said, seriously. "You should practice the piano and do your homework before you watch TV. But I guess grown-ups don't have homework, so maybe you can do your cleaning for your homework."
We gathered our stuff out of the car and went inside. Maybe I should get out the music to that Toccata sometime. After all, it is a good idea to practice before you watch TV.

1 comment:

Lara said...

I loved reading this. I think many of us probably feel the same way. I've gone in waves of "musicality" since I graduated. From teaching no lessons to performing and teaching quite a bit. I still don't feel like I have it in me to do what I did in college though. :) In fact, I wing my performances WAY more than I should at this point.

I figure there's a time and a season for everything, but I do miss it. And you're right, it is a good idea to practice before watching TV. Or surfing the net.

That is, if your kids will even let you.