Vintage PA: It Sounded Better At Home
“The really exciting part,” said Eeyore in his most melancholy voice, “is that when I left it this morning it was there, and when I came back it wasn’t.”
We have all experienced the really exciting part during music lessons, sports practice, math tests, and interviews. We have prepared well and feel great about our progress and then somehow it’s all gone- poof.
In the movie Christmas Story, Ralphie murmurrs “A football? What’s a football?”, as he sits on Santa’s lap unable to remember the Red Ryder range model lever action BB gun with the compass in the stock and the thing that tells time, he so dearly wants.
Recently, in what can only be described as an attempt at damage control, I actually had a student tell me, “This sounded much better at home” before he had ever played the first note of the piece!
Perhaps we are all distracted by the bright and shiny objects of perfection we see and hear in television, movies, recordings and the like. We are human beings and we make mistakes. The bright and shiny commercial perfection happens because the bad stuff was left on the cutting room floor.
All of us must resist the urge to believe that our live playing is worthless if it isn’t perfect. Sometimes we think that someone else’s playing is absolutely perfect and we beat ourselves up mentally over it. I submit that many times, in reality, that person is a few levels above us and we simply don’t recognize any imperfections. That person also is probably extremely good at jumping forward immediately instead of trying to fight their way out of a passage gone wrong.
Exciting stuff happens when you play the piano- stuff you never imagined in your wildest dreams. The key is to try to imagine what that stuff might be and take steps to prevent it before it happens. The great pianist Josef Levinne maintained that he never truly knew a piece until he had performed it so many times that he had made every mistake possible.
Musician know thyself. True confidence in performing (whether at your lesson, or on the stage) comes from knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, knowing the piece inside out and backwards, knowing what you and the composer are trying to say, and knowing that you have secure jumping points in case of fire. Then and only then, can you face the really exciting part and keep going no matter what.