Monday, October 30, 2006


Yesterday afternoon I had another D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) recital. I have to do six total for the degree, and this was my fourth. I've passed the halfway mark! This was an especially important one to me because it was my first since Daniel was born. Can I swing this whole thing of having a kid and continuing with a performance degree? If yesterday was any indication, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Everything about that performance felt good. For those interested, the program was as follows: Two of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances (C minor from op. 46 and E minor from op. 78), the Mozart FM 4-hand sonata, Debussy's Six Epigraphes antiques
and Poulenc's 2-piano sonata. I think yesterday was probably the best performance of Mozart I've ever given in public, and that's a damn hard piece.

I have to give due credit to my piano partner, Ellen. We've spent a LOT of time together the past two months, and it turns out we're a very good fit. I felt perfectly confident going into the performance and we both had a lot of fun performing. That's really what it's all about, right?

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I should be in bed, but I'm freaking out a little bit instead.

I have a doctoral recital Sunday. That will be fine. I'm trying to write program notes and they are shitty, but they won't be by the time I take them to Kinko's or wherever for printing on Saturday.

I also have a little over two weeks until I start the process of taking my prelims. I say process because there are three parts to the exam: the portion for my doctoral minor, my doctoral major, and then the orals. While it's a relief to be past the mess of beaurocracy it took to get the warrant issued, it meant that I didn't know if I was taking the exams this semester and hence didn't know what to study. I'll spare you the nitty-gritty details, but DMA prelims are in transition now, and the upshot of it is that the exams are supposed to be a little easier for people like me who have taken a crapload of courses. I just got an email from my minor professor indicating that I'll be taking the old test, which I believe consists of a long list of essay questions and terms to identify.

Was that confusing? Sorry. I'll simple it up for you: I have just over two weeks to review 800 years of Western music history. Just typing that about made me crap my pants.

Remember that list of stuff that calms me down? It's nonsense, all of it. No amount of knitting or bread-pummeling will alleviate this situation.

I wish I could take the stack of term papers I've written for music history courses and seminars at this stupid school and place them in my already-too-thick file and say "Here! Isn't this proof enough that I have Sufficient Knowledge?"


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Dog Who Loved to Suck on Toads

You've got to listen to this NPR story from All Things Considered to fully appreciate it.

"I'm not not licking toads."
-Homer Simpson

Monday, October 23, 2006

Top Ten Zen

Pam? Were you reading my mind or something when you tagged me for this? This morning my head was spinning with all the stuff I had to get done, everything from cleaning up my messy house to making a dent in the laundry that's been accumulating for quite a while now to scheduling my oral exams for prelims and making posters so that someone will show up to my recital this Sunday (ack). So this here is a good exercise.

Ten things that make me feel more calm, focused and secure:

1. Making lists. Sometimes if I have a lot to do, it helps me just to write it all down, even menial tasks like washing diapers (it feels like I'm always washing diapers). Then I try to accomplish just one thing at a time.

2. Biking. I have precious few opportunities to ride my bike these days. When Daniel's a year old he'll be big enough for the Burley trailer, and I plan to take him on lots of rides around Madtown. As it is, I leave him at home with a babysitter twice a week so that I can go to campus for lessons and rehearsals, and like I've always done - even through the 7th month of pregnancy - I bike there. As long as the temperature is above zero and the streets aren't covered with ice or snow, I ride the bike eight miles round trip. I used to bike for practical reasons: parking on campus is expensive and scarce, the buses are slow and inconvenient where I live, it's good exercise. But now, on top of all those things, my twice-weekly bike rides are precious times of the week I have all to myself. Sometimes I think about the music I'm working on or contemplate life. Sometimes I plan dinner or future knitting projects. Sometimes I just zone out and let everything pass me by...even though I'm the one moving...but it sounded a little poetic, didn't it?

3. Making bread. It's simply satisfying to mix a few ingredients in a dough and then pummel the crap out of it.

4. Drinking hot beverages. This is especially good in times of craptastic weather. (Like today. Ice pellets! Yuck!) I like tea, hot cider with mulling spices, cocoa, and lately Stu makes a mean latte in the mornings. Aaaah.

5. Knitting. With a recital coming up, I have to be careful not to overdo this one, as it can occasionally be a little hard on the wrists.

6. Practicing gratefulness. I don't do this nearly enough, but when I do, it honestly puts me in a better mood.

7. Blogging. Occasionally (all right, often), blogging is more a means of procrastination than true relaxation, but writing about things helps me to put them in perspective and get them off my chest.

8. Gardening. Alas, the season for this is past, but oh! how I love to play in the dirt. My garden is like my house: small and a little messy, yet cozy. I get a kick out of fixing a yummy meal and saying casually to Stu "What you're eating now was growing outside in our yard less than an hour ago."

9. Walking/hiking. It's been a while since I've been on a serious hike. A few summers ago we climbed a 14K mountain in Colorado and it was incredibly exhilarating. Now we are fortunate to live very near a large conservation park, where we walk in the evenings in the spring and summer. Daniel loves being outside, riding along in the baby backpack, or, when he was very tiny, the sling. I'm a person who needs to experience Nature; it makes me think about life cycles and balance and it helps me keep a healthy perspective on what is truly important, and what isn't.

10. Talking to Stu. I'm not gonna get all mushy here, but my husband is just so good at listening and helping me work through stressful situations. Plus, we have the same odd sense of humor, and that's just fun.

D'oh! Ten already! I'm going to keep going...

11. Playing piano. Yes, I do this more or less professionally, so it's often a source of stress in my life. At the same time, I'm probably more focused when I'm practicing or performing than any other times.

12. Nursing. Parenting is not easy - understatement of the year - but breastfeeding my child to sleep is one of the sweetest parts of my day.

Anyone else care to do this? Consider yourself tagged!

*Edited to add: if you do such a list on your own blog, be a peach and leave a comment here letting me know so I can go read it, 'k?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Big Sigh of Relief

After waiting on pins and needles for the last two weeks to hear from the graduate counselor at the School of Music, it appears that I will be able to take my prelims this semester after all. There were two potential problems. The first: I wasn't sure if the one semester of Italian I had was sufficient for the language proficiency portion of my degree. Collaborative piano is the only program I know of here - besides voice - where one has to demonstrate proficiency in the three major languages of Western classical music: French, German and Italian. Fortunately, my major professor approved that Italian class, so I don't even have to take an extra exam. The second issue was that two recitals I did the first semester in the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) never got registered properly. Let me re-phrase that: I apparently didn't register for them, though I turned in the grade forms so there is documentation that I did the programs. This was basically stupid negligence on my part but no one caught the mistake, so I somehow have to get those credits retroactively. This can be done. No doubt it will take a pile of paperwork and at least one hike up Bascom Hill, but it's worth it.

Of course, this means I need to alert my committee and schedule my oral exams and then start studying like there's no tomorrow...but all this means that the end is, if not near, at least in sight.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A couple of random updates

The mouse situation (I would link, but I've had to write, like, four posts on this already...): We bought a couple more traps on Sunday, along with a plug-in thing that looks like an air-freshener, but actually emits sound undetectable to the human ear that is supposed to repel mice. Since then we've seen none, despite the warning on the package that we "may see increased activity" as the vermin is driven out of their hiding places (shudder, shudder), and we've caught none in the traps. I'm taking the optimistic, if naive, view that we are rid of them, for now.

The baby situation: I almost wish I hadn't published that last post. It was whiny and full of self-pity and it's not like my experience is unique. I won't delete it, though, because I was also being honest. Anyway, I went to studio class this afternoon, where Daniel was a little angel, even when I was playing and someone else was holding him. Immediately after, I went to visit a friend whose 3yo had just thrown a mammoth tantrum and whose sister-in-law was in town with her 2mo son (any friends of Claire reading this - baby Ben is really, really cute!) and Daniel was great there, too. He wanted to grab baby Ben's face but it was all well-intended and he didn't shriek or whine the whole time. Right now he's playing with Disco Daddy Stu and being very cute.

This mama's ass be draggin'

Damn, is this parenting thing hard.

Now, I realize I have many things to be grateful for. My child is healthy. My child is strong. Breastfeeding has been, by and large, a piece of cake. Stuart is an excellent father. He also supports us financially so that I have the option of staying home more or less full-time.

I fully appreciate these things.

And that makes me feel rather guilty and ungrateful for even bringing this up - but I'm feeling a little worn-down. Daniel's teething for real this time. I know, I know, just after I said please for the love of god don't tell me he's teething one of those chompers poked through on Sunday, and judging by his behavior the other one's not far behind. He wakes up every 60-90 minutes through the night after 11pm (though I just checked out the No-Cry Sleep Solution from the library, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can change that). He's clingy during the day, always wanting to pull himself up on my legs and Stay There. He's discovered a new sound he can make: a high-pitched shriek that literally makes my ears ring. He goes on random solid food strikes, accompanied by the shrieking.

I could deal with all this - I'm sure a lot of it can be blamed on teething - except that he can't stand it if I'm not with him every minute. Yesterday morning the babysitter came over for a couple of hours so that I could practice and he fussed and whined nearly the whole time because I wasn't physically attached to him. The separation anxiety is an even bigger problem while I'm teaching piano lessons on Thursday afternoons, probably because it's later in the day.

And yet absolutely everything I do is met with protest. If I pick him up, put him down, change his diaper, wipe his hands clean, try to give him teething gel, try to give him tylenol, try to feed him - it doesn't matter what it is, he screams like he's being tortured, arches his back, and wriggles away.

It's not that I never get a break from my kid, but all the times other people are taking care of him are while I'm doing something else that couldn't very well be described as fun. Stuart plays with him for about a half hour in the evening while I clean up the kitchen. My students' parents watch him while I teach piano lessons. A babysitter comes over so I can either practice here at home or go to campus for a lesson or rehearsal.

It's all just getting to be a little bit much.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ten Things I Love, or at Least Really, Really Like

Steph didn't tag me for this list, but I'm pretending she did!

1. Hot cider with mulling spices. Last weekend we went down to an orchard not far from Madison with pick-your-own apples and came home with nearly fifteen pounds of them, and I also picked up a gallon of apple cider and some mulling spices in teabags. A steaming hot cup of spiced cider has become my evening treat, something to love about autumn.

2. The first hour after Daniel's gone to bed. This is the hour in the evening when I can relax with Stu, which we usually spend rotting our brains watching TV and drinking a glass of wine or local brew and I work on a knitting project or just zone out.

3. Oberon. We are unapologetic beer snobs and this is one of the best out there. It's also seasonal (sniff). Perhaps that fleeting quality makes this beer all the more precious.

4. Blogging. It's like crack to me.

5. The compost pile. Yeah, I know Steph already said it, but it's true! We eat a lot of produce in this house and as a result there's a lot of organic waste to dump out there. When we moved into this house a little over two years ago, building a compost site was one of the first things we did. The city of Madison sells composters for about $40 every spring, but we moved at the end of the summer and needed one right away. Not wanting to spend $120 to order a fancy-pants composter from a catalog, we went to the nearest hardware store and bought some wire fencing, a sledgehammer, and some thick staples. We fashioned a triangle-shaped enclosure using those materials and leftover posts we found under the deck and voila! We had a compost "bin." A few weeks ago I was cleaning out my sadly-neglected garden plot (I always lose steam sometime in August) and I decided to turn the compost pile to give it some air and see how it was doing. I saw beautiful black dirt and many, many earthworms. I also found a spoon we'd been missing for a while. Compost is such a simple but miraculous thing - you throw your apple cores, your vegetable peels, your eggshells and coffee grounds, and your autumn leaves in a pile and nature turns it all to good, healthy dirt. It's the ultimate recycling. It's as natural as natural gets.*

6. Daniel at bathtime. This kid loves baths. He loves being nekked and splashing around with his rubber ducky and the gentle massage of the washcloth and being wrapped up in a towel's all so damn cute! Unfortunately he doesn't love so much the putting on of the diaper and PJs immediately following, but that obviously doesn't belong on this list, does it?

7. Caller ID. This being election season, caller ID has been particularly handy. At least 75% of the time the phone rings before 7pm, it shows up as "Grassroots Campaign," "So-and-so for Congress," or a mysterious "Toll-Free" number. Now I don't have to answer the phone to tell them politely to bugger off. I just let it ring.

8. Wolf lieder. Forgive the esotericism, but if I had to pick one song composer to play exclusively for the rest of my life, I would have to choose Hugo Wolf (not that it would be an easy decision by any means.) I've had the opportunity to perform many of his songs, including the entire Italienisches Liederbuch and I don't believe anyone before or since so masterfully wed text and music. Never have I had to think so much about music I've performed. I probably spent just as much time thinking about the music as practicing it.

9. The Daily Show. It's linked on my news-roll. Jon Stewart is the only reason I can handle keeping up with the news these days. He's just so damn funny. Plus, he wasn't afraid of calling the U.S. House of Representatives a "bunch of insane jackasses," and that was before the Mark Foley scandal.

10. Digital cameras. I'm not much of a gadget girl, but I do love our DSLR. It was our big purchase last summer, and we've definitely gotten our money's worth out of it. Paying to develop the hundreds of pictures we have taken of Daniel would cost more than the camera. It's much better to have them taking up lots of hard-drive space as huge folders in iPhoto. Plus, it makes mo-blogging mo-fun:

*Stu just informed me that organic waste that ends up in landfills actually produces methane, a greenhouse gas! So you can either return to the earth what came from the earth in a completely natural way, or dump it in a landfill where it creates more pollution than regular trash. This one's a no-brainer.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Eye-candy Friday

Yes, that is snow.

Freaking Wisconsin.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Statement from the Nickel Mines Amish Community

Any school shooting is horrible, but for some reason the one at the Amish school in Pennsylvania seemed particularly evil to me. I wish I could understand why people do these horrible things, and why this phenomenon is unique to the United States; I wish there was something I could do to stop it.

In the meantime, I was struck by this public statement that I received via email from the pastor of the Madison Mennonite Church.

*Statement of thanks to the public and plans for use of contributions *

Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania – On October 2 seven Amish families in our
community experienced the unimaginable -- ten of their young daughters
were shot, five fatally, by a gunman who invaded the Amish school where
their children attended. The whole community, Amish and others, were
horrified and shocked that such evil could be done to the most innocent
members of our peaceful community.

Messages of condolence and care, financial contributions, and offers of
all kinds of assistance began to pour into the community almost
immediately from the local community and from around the world. We, the
people of the Nickel Mines community, are humbled and deeply thankful
for this outpouring of love. Each act of kindness, the prayers and every
gift, small or large, comfort us and assure us that our spirits will
heal even though the painful loss will always be with us. Thank you for
your generous kindness and for walking with us in this “valley of
death”. We wish we could thank each of you personally.

In those first hours and days we experienced personally the love and
care of our neighbors and the public and private service providers as
they responded tirelessly and selflessly. Specifically, we acknowledge
and thank the following: volunteer fire companies, especially the Bart
Township fire company; fire police; Lancaster County Sheriff’s
Department; Pennsylvania State Police and local law enforcement people;
ambulance and emergency response teams; hospitals and all the related
medical providers; coroners; churches; community volunteer groups;
transportation providers; and the Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite
Disaster Service, the Anabaptist Foundation and the numerous banks and
businesses that are collecting funds. To all those we failed to mention,
thank you, and apologies for not naming you.

We thank people from the news media who sensitively reported our tragedy
to the world and in many cases wrote thoughtful commentary that helped
the world grapple with values that are dear to us -- forgiveness,
non-violence, mutual caring, simplicity and life in a community of
faith. Above all, thank you for the acts of kindness you showed us even
while you were doing your reporting work.

The Roberts family is also suffering. Please join us in showering care
on them, praying for them and in assisting them with financial needs
that they face.

We have organized the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee to receive
contributions and apply them to the needs that resulted from the
shootings: medical and counseling services, transportation for victims,
transportation and extra living expenses for family members attending to
the victims, rehabilitation, long-term disability care, modifications to
homes or schools if needed to make facilities handicap accessible, and
any other expenses resulting from the event. If adequate funds are
received contributions may be made to charity funds of health service
providers and to volunteer public service entities that responded to
this event without charging for their services. Funds received in excess
of what is needed to respond to the Nickel Mines Amish School tragedy
will be contributed, as the committee deems appropriate, to needs
arising from other tragic events within or outside the Amish community.

Thank you and God bless you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The best part about waking up...

Remember that mouse? And that other mouse?

He had friends.

And they came looking for him.

Since those incidents, I found a dead mouse in the trap Stuart set in the basement. Then I discovered a package of noodles that had been ripped open. Only 1/4 of the noodles were left, and there was a healthy pile of mouse turds on the shelf by the package.

And then this morning. Oh, this morning. It all started when I was putting some dishes away and noticed suspicious tiny dark brown pellets in one of the bottom cupboards. "Are these mouse turds?" I began to ask, but before I could finish my query, I saw a shadow scuttling into the dark. At first I thought it might be a bug, but no, it had a tail.

To my credit, I didn't scream or even squeal, though I did slam the cupboard shut and jump onto a chair.

The events that followed made me completely lose my appetite for breakfast. Stuart set the trap in the cupboard, we heard it snap a few minutes later, and he had to drown the poor thing in a bucket because for whatever reason, the trap didn't kill it.

All this time, Stu made the espresso, brewed some coffee for the thermos, and I was feeding Daniel his breakfast of peach mush, banana mush and rice cereal flakes.

After the drowning, but before the coffee was ready, we caught Daniel drinking from the sippy cup all by himself for the first time. It may have been an accident, but we're still proud of him.

Then Stuart left for work and I was left to change the mother of all poopy diapers.

It's been an eventful morning.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mama's boy

Thanks for all the support and suggestions on that last post. I want to address a few things:

1. Teething. Yeah, I guess he's probably teething. I've heard good things about the Hyland teething tablets, though I don't have any here. I do have some teething gel that I've given him already a few times when I've noticed him chewing hard on his fist, and it seems to help. No chompers yet, but that could happen any time now.

2. Co-sleeping. We have taken Daniel into bed with us. In fact, it happens nearly every morning between 4 and 5:30am, as the only alternative is to get up and nurse/comfort him every twenty minutes. I hesitate to keep him in bed with us all night because:

- we've done it before, and it makes it really hard for him to sleep in his crib later
- our bed is only queen-sized and it gets a little cramped when your kid likes to sleep with his arms straight out to the sides
- if I'm right next to him, he likes to nurse at least half the time we're lying there so I end up awake more than asleep and lying on one side with no circulation in my right arm. In other words, it's uncomfortable for me, and actually less restful than getting up and going to the crib frequently.

That said, I don't have issues with other people co-sleeping. There are some parents who put their babies in their own beds in their own rooms from day one and it works fine, and there are some people who co-sleep until their kids are in kindergarten and that works fine, too. So I'm not judging one way or another; we're just trying to figure out what works for us.

3. Swaddling. I hadn't considered that, actually! When Daniel was a wee newborn, we didn't swaddle him often, just when he had evening fussy time, which thankfully wasn't every night. Now he's wriggly and often flips over to his tummy as soon as he's put down for a nap or for the night, so I don't know how well he would stay wrapped in a blanket. It might be worth a shot, though.

4. Water. He's not able to drink by himself from a sippy cup, and he stopped taking a bottle a little while ago, so I think this might be a strategy a little down the road.

5. Keeping him up. I would love to do that, but in addition to frequent night-wakings, Daniel is finicky about naps. Yesterday, for example, he slept for a TOTAL of 45 minutes, and that was spread out over two naps, so keeping him up until 7:15 was already a challenge. Since he started crawling, the nap situation has improved somewhat, but not every day. When he has longer naps, bedtime is a little later and goes more smoothly, certainly, but that's something we have to take day by day.

Aside from the sleep issues, he's such a fun, sweet, sociable little boy, not to mention a bit of a flirt. He also loves to be with his mama. Now that he can easily move from one place to another, he is no longer content sitting just outside of the kitchen playing with his books and blocks, but wants to be literally underfoot "helping" me:

Sunday, October 08, 2006


I wish.

Yes, friends, we are having some serious sleep issues in Madtown. I hesitated to post about it because in daylight hours Daniel is a delight and he is, after all, a baby. They often don't sleep well.

Our problem is not getting him to bed. He goes to sleep happily between 7 and 8 every night and sleeps soundly for three or four hours. It's that chunk of time between midnight and 4a.m. that is so brutal. Typically, Daniel wakes up to nurse at 10:30 or 11, when we're headed to bed. And then again at 12, 1, 2, 3, 4--you get the idea. If we're lucky, he goes happily into his crib. Every so often, though, he pretends to be asleep but as soon as he hits the crib mattress he fusses and whines. He easily sits up on his own and can also pull himself up to standing on his crib bars, so once this child has decided to be awake, there's no leaving him to cry it out. Believe me. We've tried.

The other night was particularly bad. He had eaten well during the day, including an afternoon snack of mashed banana and hearty dinner of assorted mushy vegetables, and breastfed plenty before going to bed at 7:30 or so. (I present this as evidence that he wasn't waking from hunger.) At 11:00, though, he woke up in need of milk and comfort, which I willingly gave...and gave...and gave...and gave. By half past midnight, I had nursed him to sleep and returned him to his crib probably half a dozen times and every time I failed. Stuart tried to help but it was just one of those times Daddy wasn't good enough. I was so tired I ached. My brain was shutting down from the exhaustion of cumulative sleep-deprivation of many interrupted nights. My breasts were so tapped I felt myself shrivelling. My patience was done.

Those of you who know me well know that while I experience anger, sadness and frustration just like any normal person, I almost never lose my cool. I am blessed with an even temperment and general ability to keep things in perspective, even when I'm upset.

But that last time I tried putting him down and he writhed and fussed, I cracked. I mean to say that I completely lost my cool. Too exhausted to cry, too angry to be rational, and too frustrated and impatient to suck it up and try one more time, I started to scream. I screamed and screamed and screamed to drown out the sound of his crying and my growing feelings of failure and incompetence.

When I finished, Daniel was still crying and I was still an exhausted mess, but I felt a little better.

"My goodness," said Stuart's timid voice from the other side of the bed. (He told me the next day he was afraid the neighbors would call the police, but was probably too terrified to say anything to me at that moment. He is wise, my husband.)

It took another twenty minutes or so, but eventually the little demon went to sleep - for a couple hours anyway. Things have been predictably dicey since then, but I am dealing with it. I have to tell myself that this will not last forever, that someday, even if it's years from now, I'll get a full night's sleep again. After all, he's just a baby. I should have known to expect this.

(By the way, don't tell me he's teething. We've been blaming all of his behavior on teething since May and he still doesn't have any teeth. I'm sick of people telling me he's teething.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

And the winner is...

Jenn! At least, she came closest in her guess. The mystery object is not a hybrid vegetable, but actually an heirloom broccoli variety called Romanesco. I picked it up at the Co-op last weekend because it was so curious-looking and it turned out I like it a little better than the old garden-variety (yuk yuk) broccoli. It's a little milder, and delicious steamed.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Where have I been?

1. Daniel is officially crawling, as of last Saturday. His version of crawling is a lopsided bear-walk, and his main goal is to get to anything vertical, anything at all, upon which he might be able to pull himself up to standing. The piano, the piano bench, kitchen chairs, the doorway, the computer desk, the bookcases my dad built, my leg - any of these things will do as far as he's concerned. So now I'm spending a good bit of time making sure he doesn't push all the buttons on the DVD player, pull all the CDs off the shelf or drool all over the sound system.

2. I started a knitting blog! Why? Heaven knows I don't have lots of extra time, and on some level, knitting blogs annoy me, but I did it anyway. I want to document the things I make, since most of them are given away as gifts and most have a small story to tell. I doubt many people will read the new blog, since most of y'all aren't knitters and would be bored with it. And that's OK. We'll see how long I stick with it.

3. I have a doctoral recital three weeks from Saturday, which means the time I pay someone else to chase Daniel around I'm in rehearsals, lessons, or studio class. I think the Mozart's going to do me in.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


That's pi-ANN-ist, not PEE-anist. The latter sounds much too much like "penis."

At my piano lesson a couple of weeks ago, my teacher, my piano partner and I had an interesting and enlightening discussion about what separates the pros from the amateurs in performance. The day before there was a concert featuring music of Lee Hoiby. The composer himself was there and performed about half of the program; various faculty, students and a guest artist did the rest. My own teacher, who both played and sang in the concert, commented of the student pianist that she had done a lovely job but it was immediately apparent that this was "student playing." What separates "good student playing" from "professional" playing? This is not an easy question to answer. After all, the elements were there: technical proficiency, a mature sense of phrasing and musicality, and sensitive collaboration with the other musicians on stage. What was missing, my teacher decided, was a certain depth of sound, something she calls "musical profile."

Does that sound abstract? It is. It's a hard concept even for experienced musicians. I would liken it to writing. There is good writing, and then there is the writing that is so good, and with such a distinctive voice, that you know immediately who the author is and are entirely engaged. Writers like Barbara Kingsolver, Molly Ivins, Anne Lamott and Toni Morrison are all like that; these women could write about watching paint dry and I would read it.

Did that make sense? No? All right, then. Consider the theatre. How loud must actors speak, how carefully must they ennunciate to be heard in the back row of the audience? Microphone or no, it's more than you think. Performing classical music live is the same thing.

I once attended a master class by Murray Perahia. He is a rather conservative player, but one of my favorite living pianists nonetheless, and is of surprisingly small stature, given the sound he can bring out of an instrument simply by depressing one key. He plays a single melody line, piano, in a huge concert hall and the sound fills the room, yet somehow he is not forcing the instrument or sacrificing the quality of his sound.

Why is this so difficult? It's not a matter of physical strength. Small people play loud, no problem. Here's the answer my teacher gave: FEAR. We inexperienced pianists are afraid of making ugly sounds, of completely letting go physically to produce enough sound in a performance to project to the audience. Seasoned professionals know what it takes, while the rest of us have to be told time and time again to project, to play distinctively, to articulate ourselves musically. This is not a matter of playing loud enough. Actors don't shout to be heard, after all.

If you're still with me, bless you. I'm trying to explain what it means to articulate oneself musically, and I'm afraid this post is muddled and confusing. Bah.

That lesson was so informative for me, verging on epiphanal (did I spell that right? Probably not.) I've spent so much of my life playing the piano, I can barely remember what it was like before I started lessons in kindergarten. My technique is still far from perfect, and I will always have a lot to learn about the repertoire I choose to play. But now I know what's holding me back from playing like a real pianist. Fear. And little by little, I'm learning to let go.