Monday, March 29, 2010

Recital with Obstacles

Everything had started out so well. Terri Suess from the Ethical Culture Society in Maplewood had spontaneously picked up my spontaneous idea to play a benefit recital for the earthquake survivors in Haiti. We had found a suitable date. A flyer was made, and invitations went out. My tryout had been successful. The piano at ECS had been tuned, and I had had three practice sessions at the venue. The piano bench was too high, but I had taken my own bench there, and a lamp as well, so I would have enough light to read the music. I had had a confidence inspiring last practice session at home - and now, at 5:30, it was time to leave, and my music was gone!  

I had looked into my backpack twice in disbelief, unpacked it and repacked it - the blue Henle score of Bach’s Well’Tempered Clavier II had disappeared mysteriously. I had used it for practice in the afternoon, even reinforced the edge of a page with tape to make the page turn easier, and I was sure I had put it in the backpack with everything else. 
I began to search the apartment. There weren’t many options. Inside the piano, behind the desk and the shelf next to it, in the closet where I keep my concert clothes, it wasn’t on any of the tables. Quickly I scanned the other blue scores on the music shelf. After all I could have put it in the wrong place. Also, I kept periodically checking the backpack, hoping that this was just a bad dream - but it wasn’t. This was creepy. I began to seriously consider the possibility of sabotage by supernatural forces.

I have another edition of the Well Tempered Clavier which I occasionally use for reference, but I don’t play from it. The layout of the page is different, and I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to adjust. Time was passing, and getting in some practice with the unfamiliar score seemed a more promising option than getting on the phone and trying to find someone who could provide me with a copy of the Henle Edition at the last minute.

It took some effort to adjust, but it went well enough to take the plunge. In my hurry to get out the door I had forgotten to take an extension chord for the lamp, but they had that at ECS. My piano bench, which had been transported there by cab earlier in the day was still too high. I hadn’t realized that the piano does not stand on coasters, making it a little lower than usual. Fortunately, there were plenty of folding chairs which had just the right height. 

The concert started with two Preludes and Fugues. Despite a few rough spots I secretly congratulated myself on having learnt the music well enough to be able to do this at all. The impact on my concentration was not altogether favorable, though. 
I played the rest of the program from memory and there were a couple of unforeseen detours and fairly liberal interpretations of Beethoven’s score. 
Also, I noticed something very disconcerting: the use of the pedal caused the chair to slide backwards. A tiny bit each time, not visible to the audience, but possibly enough to put the keyboard out of reach by the time I got to the last variation of op. 109. Finding appropriate moments to pull the chair closer added an additional challenge to a challenging piece. 
It was a relief to play “Scenes of Childhood” afterwards - the short pieces allow much more of a chance for seating adjustments.

Despite these obstacles, I managed to keep going and bring the music across. The audience was very appreciative. $ 325 were donated to UNICEF and "Doctors without Borders", and after the concert we all spent pleasant time together in the hospitality of ECS.

On getting home, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the lost score staring at me the moment I walked in the door. An upcoming performance can have a heavy impact on perception. 
But the score remained lost. As I put things away I kept searching for it, scanning every flat surface, checking bags, shelves, the piano again....

The next day, when I was standing at the piano, something blue on the top of Cappuccina’s scratchpole caught my eye. When or why I put the score there, I have no idea.

Some time ago I saw someone wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: “Don’t let your mind wander - it’s much too small to be out there by itself.” While I fully acknowledge the truth of that statement, I am still more comfortable with a mind that wanders occasionally than with a ghost in the apartment that puts jinxes on the music.   

1 comment:

  1. Great vignette, Birgit!! If nothing else, you have offered up a host of "excuses" for me to use the next time I make mistakes during a performance!! Your description of the "moving chair" reminds me of that sad-but-hilarious scene from "Shine" where the piano kept moving while the young boy was trying to perform!!

    Bob Smith