My first piano recital, at least I didn't cry
A few days before my first piano recital I tried every tool in my kit to calm my nerves: meditating, praying, hiking, yoga-ing, even forgoing the occasional swing by Dairy Queen.
Two days before, I told my teacher I’d played the piece 50 times one day and 60 another to make sure I knew it well enough. She was not pleased, “I don’t want you playing it again until the day of the recital. You can’t cram for a performance, your brain will be mush!”
Shoot. With that deed already done, I focused on working the nervousness out of my body. Maybe if my body was at ease, I’d play better. A nice thought.
I was hopeful when I walked on stage. I wasn’t as nervous as I expected, even with my husband, his mom, her sister, clapping, smiling, beaming in front of me. It took me by surprise, how excited they seemed.
I sat down at the piano, adjusted the bench like I knew what I was doing and as if on cue, my pinkies started trembling. My mind went mushy (as she said it would). My chest tightened. My shoulders crunched up and stayed there, stuck.
Muscle memory did kick in (as she also said it would). But there were baubles and it was shaky, those darned pinkies.
Somehow I finished, stood and bowed as my teacher had told me to do. I didn’t feel worthy but apparently, the bow isn’t about me. It’s about acknowledging the audience, those who showed up to watch you. For those beaming faces, that, I could do.
I walked off stage, pinkies (now knees) shaking. I looked up at the tallest tuba-playing community-college Dean you’ve ever seen and said, “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.” He looked down at me, smiled and offered, “At least you didn’t cry. For a first performance, you did just fine.”
I guess there’s that.
And this: Three months ago, I thought I’d never learn this piece. I had to start by counting the right hand rhythm on paper, then the left hand, then clap both hands’ rhythms on my lap, then play the right hand note by note, then the left hand... Three weeks into it, I was still struggling, with four painful pages to go.
The performance was far from perfect, but I had to remember my goal: to play pretty songs in my living room. Which now, I can do. Just not in front of anyone. Maybe that comes in another semester or two.
Here’s the other thing: Everyone was nervous beforehand. Even the experts’ pinkies were shaking. I asked one of the guys about to play a Rachmaninoff piece (crazy hard) how he was going to do it with his hands shaking. He said, “Ah. They always shake. I just play it anyway.”
I guess it took going through it to absorb what my teachers had been telling me all along: Spend more time memorizing the piece so that when my nerves kick in, and they will kick in, muscle memory will take over.
Next recital, instead of trying to "manage" my nerves, I’ll practice more and settle into "expecting" them. Maybe I’ll even swing by Dairy Queen on the way home. Ah. It feels easier already.
As you're pondering New Year's aspirations, I hope you'll take my lessons to heart. You can't cram for the big stuff... like performances or shifts in perspectives or long-held patterns. Take it in bits. Look at it as a long-term practice. And as they say in yoga (and music, and pretty much everything), practice and all is coming.