Monday, January 30, 2012

Schubert's Kicking My Ass

Schubert’s Waltz in B Minor.  Man, how I hate that piece.

Not really.  I love it.  It sounds like this:

Simple, really.  But challenging to me.

I took lessons as a child (getting good enough to play “Für Elise” by Beethoven at the request of my dad). But I abruptly quit. 

One of my teachers turned out to be quite the taskmaster and pissed me off.  She wanted me to play the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”  Frankly, I was tired of Beethoven and wanted to change my repertoire to Billy Joel and Elton John songs.  So I convinced my mom to let me stop with the lessons (one of the many examples from my youth of cutting off my nose to spite my face).

My 40s snuck up on me.  And I realized that I missed the piano. 

We all have dreams.  Mine?  To make my living as a pianist.  Now, I’m not expecting to become the next Billy Joel, Elton John or Ben Folds, but it would be great to be able to play at different venues (weddings, parties, etc.) and make enough money to support myself.

One of my friends is an accomplished classical concert pianist and teacher.  I mentioned to him one day that I would like to take lessons again and if he could suggest someone who could teach pop/rock style.  He mentioned a couple of sources, and then said offhandedly “Well, I could teach you.” 

At the first lesson, my friend and I discussed where to start and where I wanted to go with the lessons.  While I want to focus on pop/rock style, I understand that a good foundation lies in classical music.  So I decided to work on one classical piece and one popular piece per lesson. Before I sat down at the piano, I laughed and said, “I hope that I don’t bore and frustrate you with how slowly I learn.” 

He smiled.  “Don’t worry.  I only ‘fire’ students when they show no interest and refuse to learn.”

 After a particularly tough lesson (compliments of the Schubert waltz), I drove home thinking “I’m going to get fired from piano lessons.”  When I returned for my next lesson, I pulled out the sheet music for the waltz and said, “I hate this piece.” 

My friend recoiled and said, “Oh, my…well, let’s give it a go anyway.”  I played it badly, blundering at the same measures over and over until he finally said, “Stop.  I tell you what.  Just put this waltz away.  Forget about it for now.  At this point, you’re beating your head against the wall with it.  After a couple of weeks, take another look.  You will find that you can play it much better.”

I guess life is like this.  Sometimes we need to step back, take a breath, and tackle the challenge a bit later at a different angle and with a fresh point of view.

I told my friend about my concerns following the previous lesson that he was going to “fire” me.  He laughed.  “Don’t worry. You are my project.  I won’t be happy until you are playing Carnegie Hall.”

Although he may have been joking, it completely encouraged me.

I’ll let you know when I’ve booked the date.

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