Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Now" is the only time you've got

My tryout for the upcoming recital was a success
  • considering that there is never enough time, no matter how early you start to prepare
  • considering that the program is always longer than you think
  • considering that I didn’t experience any surprises: I ran into memory issues and technical difficulties exactly where I expected them.

    Practicing only gets you to a certain point. Beyond that, you have to practice performing by playing for people. Even recording isn’t the same.

    This experience, which I’ve had repeatedly, was hovering in the back of my mind during my next practice session after the tryout. I went over the sections of my program that needed attention. Then, I did another run through the entire program.

    The recording machine was on, no stops, no back tracking, keep going no matter what happens - and face the truth, listening to it later on. That’s the deal for a run-through.

    Suddenly, while I was playing, I caught myself making mental notes of the places that I would need to go over at the next practice session. How about fixing it right now? The second subject of Schumann’s piece “Soaring” needs more finger activity. I know that. I’ve been practicing that, waiting for it to become a skill I can rely on when I perform the piece.

    But how about doing the best I can with what I have, right now! That’s the difference between practicing and performing. You don’t get a second shot. What you get now is all you have - and being aware of that, maybe I can do better than I thought. 

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Workoholic's Weekend

The problem with an artistic profession and loving your work is that you’re never really “off.” There is no clear distinction between what’s work and what’s not work, because everything you do can potentially be used towards creative projects. 
Nevertheless, I had  promised myself to take weekends off during the month of August. Go to the city and walk the streets, watch people, walk in the park and sit by the lake - it’s one of the places - outside of the bus - where I can actually sit for hours and do nothing. 

“I do hope you will compose another story suite at some time,” writes Seymour Bernstein, my teacher. “Good to hear from you, and I hope you’re writing, my friend” writes Mary Ashcliffe, who leads the writers’ group in Concord. I’m on vacation, you guys, at least temporarily - of course I have a writing assignment, and I’m presenting “The Sheep that Came to School” at the South Orange Library on Tuesday, and I’m playing at a house concert on September 1st, and the studio policies need to be revised, and a couple of things organized for the next school year, and a couple of things cleaned up and put away from last school year...

Saturday morning saw me practicing “The Sheep”. When I wrote it, I thought my students were ready for a challenge, and now I’m facing the challenge myself. It was really time to take care of the studio policies, and by the time I was done with “The Sheep” it was a bit late for the bus and the park, and I found nothing wrong with a quiet afternoon and evening at home. 

I was getting a little nervous about the pieces from Schumann’s op. 12, though, which I'm planning to play at the house concert. Two of them are new, they can do with a little work - but yesterday afternoon was not a good time. While I couldn’t focus, it occurred to me that the concert is only 3 1/2 weeks away, and I haven’t scheduled any tryouts yet. Once you get past the 3 week mark, time really speeds up. My brain wasn’t really functioning, and I’m probably getting old and I’m starting to loose it, and pretty soon I won’t be able to think at all, my brain is going to shut down altogether and that will be the end of it. It’s a pretty scary thought. 

Just at that moment, a faint smell of charcoal and roasting meat came wavering through the kitchen window. A glance into the back yard showed the landlord’s brand new grill steaming away, with enough sausage and steaks to feed the entire street (I’m vegetarian). The family was gathering forces for a party - the third Saturday in a row! They must be competing for this year’s “King of the Garden Grill” award. “Umph, umph, umph” said the stereo. So much for quiet time. Subduing the urge to throw solid objects into the back yard, I closed all the windows demonstratively, which would raise the temperature in my 2nd floor apartment by another couple of degrees. 

Anger hurts yourself the most, but how do you get over it? Physical labor was all I could think of, and I had been wanting to move the shelf that accommodates my music for a while. The music is arranged in alphabetical order, and of course, everything had to be taken down and put back up to move the shelf. It didn’t exactly make me happy, but at least I was doing something useful. 

A walk through the neighborhood confirmed what I already knew: Maplewood sidewalks are an obstacle course after dark, because the roots of the trees have raised the concrete slabs the sidewalks are made of.  

Fortunately I remembered Seymour’s latest posting on You Tube on getting home, which I hadn’t listened to yet. It is a recording of a concert for children he played in 1958, in collaboration with ventriloquist Paul Winchell. It’s a delight, and just in case you need something to save your day, the links are below.

Today, I kept my promise to myself and spent the afternoon in the park, doing nothing. Action was provided by a violinist who played Bach, a big, black Persian cat who was taken for a walk on a leash, and a dachshound who, on arrival, was being transported in a pillowcase.  

Sunday afternoon in Central Park

The Bulldog's Background

Putting the pieces together, and looking through my note book after the writing workshop, I had to laugh out loud, when I realized how the bulldog poem had “materialized”:
Friday: A member of the writing group I attend sends some very sad poems. I wished I could make her laugh.
Friday evening: First encounter with the teacher of the writing workshop. He is very extrovert, intense, and not quite my vibe.
Saturday morning: On the way to the workshop, I see a bulldog who is tied to the door of a coffee shop and walks in when the door opens. 
Writing workshop, morning session: The teacher gets in the way of my creative vibes. He talks too much. It’s all about dreaming, very introspective and personal, and I say to my friend I feel tempted to make up something really silly. My friend and I get reprimanded for talking. She doesn’t like it, either. I try to withhold judgement, give it a chance.
Lunchbreak: We’re supposed to look out for something during our lunch break that will inspire our writing. My friend and I agree we don’t like the workshop and would rather be home. Our conversation drifts off to e-harmony and my friend’s chances of getting married. Time is up before we know it. She decides to skip the afternoon session. I have to stay, I’m classroom assistant.
Writing workshop, afternoon session:
We’re asked to share our inspiration from lunch break. With nothing to share, I offer the morning’s bulldog event (who cares when it happened). Someone else reports a bulldog event, a bulldog puppy chasing a shoe - this idea made it into the poem.
The session gets worse. The teacher doesn’t ask me to share a dream - in which case I’d have to make up something real quick - but we also enact dreams, and I am asked to “float” through the room, enacting the color blue, from a dream someone else shared. Fortunately, the dream was multi-colored, and so I’m not the only person floating around. I’d hate to do a solo on this one.
We learn about Graham Greene, who once had a nervous breakdown, and all the therapist asked of him was to report a dream at 11 am every morning. When Greene ran out of dreams, he started to make things up.
The workshop reaches the stage: “In one of my former lives, when I was best friends with Shakespeare.... Every time I enter the library, Stevenson’s spirit talks to me from the third bookshelf on the right...”
I begin to fill my notebook with abstract art, and write down random quotes from the discussion. 
“You must speak the role you play.”
T I B S, T I B S - I try to draw 3- dimensional letters. The abbreviation stands for: This Is Bull Sh... (excuse me! ). I don’t dare write it out, because we sit in a circle, and what if he goes around and catches the classroom assistant....
Earlier on, we have been asked to express our life’s purpose in one statement (good grief, not here..! ) and I have committed to truth and authenticity. I’m not sure I would have the courage to stand up for it in this situation - it’s not worth it.
I make an effort to reconstruct from memory the drawing of a cat I saw on a light switch a couple of days before. It comes out slightly different, though pretty good.
More quotes. Sometimes, I can’t write fast enough, and write down whatever I hear at the moment, or make up my own comments (cursive)
“Free flow - don’t be controlling when you talk to the other side” You just never know...
“ Real is what works - Jung”
“Caesar feared the woman seers who went up in the trees” and dissolved into thin air like a spirit ( 3 arrows darting upward) online!
We share, we have a discipline practice.”
“Could any of this play out in the future?” I sure hope not!
“It’s very good for self study - some dreams just don’t deliver, no matter what you do -’you just get very emotional and shove them in the trash can”
The Big Brown Bulldog sat on the floor.....

The line suddenly appeared in my mind, and once I had written it down, the rhythm and the memory of the scene, which went through my mind like a video, just pulled me along. We had 15 minutes to finish a work on a topic of our choice, and the bulldog persisted. I shared the poem, earning the appreciation of the group and the teacher: “What a delight. You appear so serious, and then you come up with this humorous poem.”
I don’t do a lot of silly stuff. Maybe this was a message from the “other side”, telling me to nourish and further develop my funny bone.