Memory Fail: Expert Level
When I was in college and ready to give my first recital, I found myself anxious about several passages. My teacher, Pat, helped me through them, but, of course, there was always the fear that the insecurity could creep back and attack when I least expected it (or worse, pop up unannounced in another passage). After showing me some more ways to manage my practicing for performance, Pat told me this tale from his student days.
A classmate, Fred, was getting ready for his Master’s Recital at Indiana University in the 1950s. He had the entire program well in hand except for the RH part in one of the Variations of Beethoven’s Op. 111. A month before, Pat asked him how it was going. Fred said he just needed to nail down the memory in one variation. A week before, Pat asked him again how he felt about his upcoming recital. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Fred said, “I just can’t learn those measures no matter what.”
The day before the program Pat listened to a run-through of the program. Everything was superb except for that one passage which was a disaster. Fred was embarrassed and frustrated. “It’s hopeless! I just can’t do it.”
The next evening Pat sat nervously through Fred’s recital, yet everything was flawless and a joy to hear. True, there was this funny head thing that happened during offending passage. Fred’s face was nearly on the keys and tracked from left to right as he played. Pat put it down to extremes stress. Backstage, he congratulated him and asked, ” What did you do to fix that Beethoven?” Fred got a horrified look on his face and said “Oh, no! I have to get that off the piano before the committee sees it!”
He ran over to the piano, and then Pat saw it. Affixed to the fallboard was a single strip of staff paper. Fred has written out the RH part and taped it just above the keys where the glare of the lights would render it completely invisible to the audience.