Today, I really miss the piano.
Reading the news about the passing of Van Cliburn is saddening, yet inspiring at the same time. His music not only brought people joy or tears, but it brought harmony during the Cold War. When I think about his passing, I think about the loss of a great pianist who left an incredible legacy behind.
Does my music leave a legacy? Considering I rarely play piano these days…probably not.
But the music within me? It is there. It is still alive. It pulsates with each heart beat and flows through my veins. Sitting at a piano, I awaken at the feeling of ivory underneath my hands, how the sound vibrates below my fingertips. Like the inside of the piano is the belly of my soul, rumbling, yearning to be nourished. Life experience feeds this hunger, and through each growing pain, my music transforms, bellowing out more mature and deep sounds. Sounds that resonate growth, wisdom, perseverance.
My piano teacher, an amazing woman now in her 80’s, taught me invaluable lessons during my piano years that I will never forget. Some things she used to say to me…1) You’re rushing. Why was I always in a hurry to go somewhere? it was only till now that I realize I must be still and let time take it’s course.
2) You can’t be fit to play if you don’t warm up properly. Do your exercises. I used to hate warming up by playing scales, arpeggios, chords, finger exercises in my Hanon. But over time, it became fun. And now I understand why warming up is so important. Like warming up your engine before driving your car. Or warming up before you work out. Or warming the oil in a frying pan before you cook your food.
3) Are you feeling it?! You’re not feeling it!! Sometimes I’d focus so much on technique, I’d completely miss the point. It’s not just about following instructions and putting your fingers on this key or that key. But about following the music and surrendering to it.
4) Whoa. That sounded way better than last week. Are you in love?! (….)
5) OH NO. Mozart is rolling in his grave. Please stop and start over. (I didn’t think this was funny as a 10 year old but looking back, my teacher was hilarious.)
6) Press deeper. You’re floating over the keys. DEEPER I said! Overall, my touch is light and I have to be more intentional about playing deeper, or making my fortes forte, or my fortissimmos fortissimmo. But I appreciate how she taught me about this… how I need to be intentional. How I have to think and be conscious about my playing while I’m playing. Because other people can tell when I’m superficial. Even if I can’t, they can. And that translates pretty much into well…everything in life.
7) Your music is telling a story. Well it’s supposed to tell a story. What’s your story? One dark, quiet night, she was driving through a woody neighborhood to visit her family’s house, and on the way she was sharing this story behind one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes. OMG it was the creepiest story ever about a man buried alive in his coffin, trying to scratch away at the lid while hearing the sounds of funeral guests walking away from his coffin. Each note in the song conveyed his feelings of fright, terror, abandonment, defeat… I ask myself, what does my music or music teaching convey? Is it a blessing to others?
8) You think I didn’t hear that? Your mistakes? I hear everything! Repeat! MISTAKES ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. I don’t know why I ever thought I could get away with my mistakes. I seriously thought she couldn’t hear them. Now that I’m older, I realize why they’re not acceptable. Because it’s disturbing! One wrong note can shift a pretty chord into a horrific sound, multiple wrong notes can destroy an entire piece.
9) Practice makes perfect. But practice properly! So there’s a right way to practice, and a wrong way to practice. She taught me the difference. At 6 years old, I’d set a kitchen timer to 30 minutes and only play for exactly that amount of time, not a minute more (because I hated practicing!) But by the time I was a senior in highschool, you couldn’t get me off the piano in less than 2 hours. And I actually enjoyed practicing, it became fun, because I learned to enjoy the piano.
10) Quit listening to your mom. You can do it. My mom was definitely not a “Tiger Mom” who pushed me to do my hardest because she wanted the best for me. Nah… mine were refugee parents who came to this country without a cent and had absolutely no interest in piano or how piano lessons could benefit me. At one point my mom begged me to quit because we couldn’t afford them anymore (at $10/lesson). But I persisted. Thankfully, my piano teacher never raised her rates so I could keep attending lessons. And while my mom was telling me I could never become something of myself… my piano teacher told me otherwise.
Glad I listened to her.