The most comforting thing is that no one's going to flunk me. For those of us who have spent our entire lives plagued with a fear of failure, there's nothing so refreshing as stumbling upon a pursuit in which absolutely nothing is at stake. Don't get me wrong—I think personal best is a fine idea. But in the relentlessly competitive world most of us inhabit, I think there's a very similar redemption in taking time to chart one's personal worst.
Recently my teacher taped a little American flag to the metronome, to "give that waving arm a sense of purpose." He was trying to get me to pay more attention to meter, but I apparently charged through that Beethoven rondo on my own internal funky-chicken time. When I finished he said, "You know, I feel great sympathy for your mother."
"Yes, and particularly when you were a teenager."
My playing inspired this?
"Well, you are the most persistent human being I have ever met, and I suspect this trait was at its peak during your adolescence." He held forth about how sheer determination has brought me a long way, but that I needed to loosen up in the elbows and wrists so as to feel the music rather than approach it like the New York Times crossword puzzle. He's like that. A great teacher, but a little tart. He meant it as a compliment; he really did. Not at all like the time he compared my playing to Napoleon's troops marching through the Russian winter.
I told my mother what he'd said about my adolescence, and she just laughed and laughed and laughed. And then she laughed some more, which I thought a bit beyond what was necessary for a woman of her dignified years. Anyway, I'm getting myself together in other ways, too, if through the back door. I drink green tea because it goes so well with D minor. I've signed up for a yoga class because it might help with that chopping-wood thing I do when my shoulders tense up. I've taken to lifting a few small weights, just enough to give me stamina for all those scales.
And a friend invited me to run a 5K race next weekend, which is actually kind of tempting since it takes a lot of aerobic ability to be able to hold my breath when I try trills. Who knows? Maybe I'll run that marathon sooner than I thought: After all, my ultimate goal is to set Rachmaninoff a-spinning in his grave.
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