Sunday, July 10, 2016

piano, man


By some miracle, it has not been a struggle getting the kids to keep up with piano practice this summer. They didn't have a lesson this past week because of the 4th of July holiday, so Daniel even assigned himself a couple new pieces  because he wanted to play something different and he enjoys the challenge.

I make my living - however meagre - as a piano teacher and accompanist, so of course my children take piano lessons. For right now, they do not have a choice about this. I am careful, however, to let them set their own expectations with their teacher and I try very, very hard not to interfere with their practicing unless they specifically ask for help. Missed notes, funky rhythms, I bite my tongue (usually). They do often ask, "Mom, what do you think?" and I respond with something bland and encouraging ("Gets better every time you play it!") rather than critique. 

Because my job requires me to be a perfectionist, it's hard to bite my tongue when I hear mistakes. I certainly don't always succeed. More than a few times I've come over to point out - gently, I hope - a glaring error, and it's usually met with rolled eyes and/or "I KNOW, mom. Stop it!" 

Of course, you can always make the philosophical argument that musical perfection is subjective. I agree with that to a point, though a missed F sharp is still a missed F sharp, and try as you might, you can't squeeze four quarter note beats into a measure of 3/4 time. Just saying.

I do not expect perfection from them, and I don't want them to expect perfection, either. I want them to enjoy making music, and so far, they do.

In fact, this past spring, Daniel's music class was practicing "The Rainbow Connection" for their spring program, and he suddenly said to the teacher, "I think this needs piano with it." (The teacher usually has recorded accompaniments or plays guitar with the kids for their concerts.) She, being the excellent and flexible and understanding teacher that she is (seriously, our school is LUCKY to have her), said OK you can give it a try and sent him home with the music. 

This was a mere three weeks before the music program, and y'all, The Rainbow Connection is not a particularly easy piece to play. The music she had was far too difficult (too many sharps, a modulation, the left hand jumped around too much) so I found a simpler version online. Still, I was nervous. For a 10yo in possession of a fair amount of talent but not necessarily prodigy, learning to play a 3-minute long song is hard enough, but to accompany 100 kids in a music program on a few weeks' notice? I'll admit, I was nervous that he would have a hard time pulling it off, that he would be stressed or overwhelmed, that he couldn't do it and would be disappointed in himself.

So I gave him the music and talked to the teacher. We agreed he would learn it the best he could and if he was ready to play with the concert, fabulous, but if not, no big deal. He could always play it for his music class later if he wanted. No pressure, in other words.

For a week after I got him the music, all he did was practice. I found myself humming it constantly, and had dreams about "The Rainbow Connection." And he learned it. I helped him practice a couple tricky spots and sang it with him at home so he could get used to the fast tempo and the fact that you CAN NOT stop to find a note or hesitate for any reason.

And wouldn't you know, he did it. He pulled it off. He played it through many times with his class when they were in music class, but only got to do it twice with everyone: once for the dress rehearsal in front of the whole school, and then again for the parents the next morning. When it came time for that song in the music program, they rolled out the little upright piano and set the mic next to it, and he played it through without a hitch along with 100 squirmy kids singing along. Afterwards his buddies gave him hugs and high fives, and it was all I could do not to sit in the back and blubber with pride. 

There is magic in being so young and naive. It did not occur to Daniel that this would be difficult, that it was something he probably should have been nervous about. He wasn't showing off, even. He just thought that particular song needed piano, and he wanted to do it, so he did it. That's it. No big deal.



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