As pianists go, I’m by no means exceptional. In fact, I’m not really a pianist, but a person who enjoys playing the piano. As a kid, I stopped taking lessons at fourteen because it didn’t seem a cool thing to do, and I wasn’t interested in practicing. Part of the problem was that a piano is LOUD and I didn’t like people hearing me practice. Specifically I didn’t want them to hear me play badly—which happens when one is learning a song. To me, it’s akin to reading the first draft of a page or paragraph out loud in a room full of people. There are missed notes and incorrect chords and zero dynamics—such a mess. So embarrassing.
I started taking lessons again almost exactly 3 years ago on my fifty-something-year-old spinet piano. (I’m thrilled to mention that I’ll start shopping for a new upright next week.) My teacher is wonderful, and is also helping me understand theory better, which is helping my playing. (My favorite habits are writing, reading, piano, and needlework. Obviously I was born in the wrong century!) But he does insist on having me memorize songs from time to time.
Memorization is torture for me. The one thing I’m very good at remembering is lyrics of songs I’ve heard eight thousand times. Also, I can find my way to and from places I’ve visited before. And I remember books if I’ve listened to them on audio, but my retention of most things I read on the page is horrible. I can’t even remember jokes—I only know two. Seriously. My brain just isn’t wired that way.
So, on this theme of enough…I spent xxx months trying to memorize Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15, better known as the Raindrop Prelude. When I asked my teacher if he thought I could play it, he was very encouraging. It’s a stunning piece. (I think every Chopin piece is stunning. He is why I wanted to return to the piano. My dream is to eventually play his Nocturnes. Well, a few of them, anyway.)
After having taken several months just to learn to play the prelude with sheet music, my teacher and I agreed that I should memorize it. I think it was even my idea. I really felt like I knew it well enough to give it a shot.
Um…It didn’t actually go so well. After spending nearly eight weeks on the first four or five lines, I still wasn’t confident and got hung up a lot. So while continuing with that, I jumped to a less-complicated section after the key change to C sharp minor on the next page. It went a little better. But, finally, I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t willing to spend the ten or twelve hours a week to learn it by heart. Especially as I knew I wouldn’t retain it for long after I’d memorized it unless I played it every single day.
It was a tough decision, until I finally made it. Now I’m quite comfortable with it. You know that feeling of freedom and relief you get when you stop beating your head against a wall? That. Also, it’s not like I can’t continue playing the piece with the music.
I failed. I did enough. And the world didn’t end. Even though I’d successfully memorized pieces in the past, while working on the prelude I learned more about music and chords and how to memorize music than I ever had before.
I’m going to look at it as I would a story or chapter that I worked and worked on but then put aside because it never quite became what I wanted it to be. That’s called practice, and the more we practice, the better we are at what we do, yes?
This is my ninth consecutive post, and I’m having a great time. It feels good to be blogging again. Thanks for hanging out with me here! If you have any questions or topics you’d like to see me write about, drop me a line at email@example.com. I don’t mean for this to be a craft blog—I blog at The Kill Zone about writing (every other Wednesday–I’ll be there on the 11th) with a lot of experienced writers who really know their stuff.
I’m going to post tonight and start taking off Saturday nights. Then I’ll have posts up Sunday thru Friday nights. Though I will try to remember to put my daily word/exercise counts up on Saturdays to keep myself honest.
Here’s a YouTube link to Valentina Igoshina playing the Raindrop prelude. She doesn’t rush it. It’s beautifully contemplative.
As I write this, it’s Epiphany. I hope you had a glorious holiday season!
January 6 Words
Journal: 420 words
Long fiction: 503 words
Short fiction: 0
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 820 words
Exercise: 36 minutes treadmill