Monday, April 24, 2006

Master Self, Child Self, Big Pieces, and Piano Insecurities

I'm learning a couple of "big" pieces on piano. As I practice them, a little voice in my head keeps saying, "You're not good enough. These are too hard for you. You've bitten off more than you can chew ... again. You idiot."

Yes, it's a nasty little demeaning voice. Once I get involved enough in a practice session, the voice eventually disappears. But it's always there, on some level. What's really annoying is that, if I'm working on something that I don't consider too difficult, it tells me how pathetically remedial I am as a pianist, to be working on such easy pieces.

Maybe other adult piano students deal with this kind of thing. One one level, maybe I'm a wanna-be classical pianist, but I really don't think that's it. On another level, I'm definitely a perfectionist, and this ugly self-talk is probably a "symptom" of that perfectionism.

I love my piano teacher because I can tell her the weird, self-doubting thoughts I have regarding piano, and she lets me know that I'm being ridiculous.

Here's a question I asked her today: Why do I feel compelled to have a piano teacher? I know very few adults who take piano lessons. Aren't you supposed to quit taking them in high school or college?

In answer to my question, Deborah said it made perfect sense for me to want a piano teacher. She said this was because I need a piano teacher. She was quick to add that it wasn't because I wasn't any good at piano. (She thinks I'm immensely talented, which is good for my ego, I suppose!) But she said that most people quit taking lessons because they don't feel any desire to improve--either they lose interest, or they play as well as they ever wanted to, and that's that.

I'm different. I know I can be so much better than I am, so I have that desire to improve. I want to play the big pieces. I want the challenge and the joy of playing a Bach fugue or a difficult Liszt piece. I want to play one of the big Beethoven sonatas one day. I would so love to play a Mozart piano concerto in the future. It's not because I want to show off or be a Great Pianist; it's because I simply love the music--I love the process of learning, I love playing, I love performing, I love sharing the musical experience with the composer and the audience, and I relish the thought of someday being worthy of the music.

Why do I desire these things?

Did God put this desire in my heart? Deborah said something to this effect, and that if the desire is there, then it's already within my reach. I may not think so, but it doesn't really matter what I think. I just need to listen to what my heart desires most deeply, and go for it.

She also said that, on some level, I know the big pieces are within my reach. But that on another level--my conscious level--I keep seeing roadblocks and impossibilities. "This is too hard." "This is so confusing." "&#%@, I can't even figure out the first %#*& note of this @^#& section" (this is a thought I regularly have--expletives and all!--when practicing the 7-sharp C#-major fugue).

She said I have to let my "master self"--the self that knows I'm capable--teach the "child self"--the stubborn self that won't accept possibilities--that I am indeed up to the task of the big pieces.

It sounds a little New-Agey, and perhaps it is, but I was also reading a quote by Madeleine L'Engle in Walking on Water, a book about Christianity, art, and the Christian artist. She writes that "You write the book that wants to be written." She writes of writing (and all art) as an act of faith. The art itself wants to be made. The books want to be written. The music wants to be played. The artist need only listen for the need and do the work required.

She writes of art as an incarnational act--an act of enfleshing the idea. She compares the artist to Mary, who didn't ask questions, who just accepted God's will for her.

I don't exactly know where I'm going with this, except that what Deborah said about desire and capability, and what L'Engle says about creating art, seem to be a bit in the same vein.

If God wants me to create, to write, to play these big pieces that I feel incapable of playing, then He will give me the ability. Deborah would say that he has given me the ability, or at least the talent and the potential. Of course, I will have to practice my fingers off, deliberately, slowly, perhaps for years, but I will get it because I'm meant to get it. I just need to have patience and faith--two things I am typically short on.

But I will get it. If I look at the writing, the music, the art as something God wants me to do, then I feel a much greater responsibility to follow through with it. And the Bach fugue, and the Liszt piece, and all the others, will come with time--God willing--because I want them to come.

It sounds entirely too pat and easy. I don't know if I completely believe it. But I do know one thing: they'll come a lot faster if I blog less and practice more. :) So, the next 30 minutes of my life will be spent with George. Then more school-related work. Then bed.

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