A few weeks ago, I decided to delve more into piano. I missed my time at the bench playing an instrument that doesn’t live inside my body (my voice!). I started practicing “Londonberry Air” which is more commonly recognized as “Danny Boy.” I hammered away at the piano keys, stressed out and determined to drive muscle memory into my fingers. I must memorize these jumps like an athlete, I thought to myself. But there was just one problem: it felt like struggle and it sounded like struggle too. After a week’s practice, it was time for us to leave for Arizona where there would be no piano to practice.
I had a moment of slight panic upon arrival, listening for music everywhere and not feeling a strong connection to any music. There were the sounds of the birds chirping at dawn, the wind softly blowing through the palm trees… but was this music? And what on earth would I write my next blog entry about without being inspired and motivated by some new live performance I witnessed? I witnessed nothing. I sat by the pool, listening to my girls giggle and splash. I got in the hot tub. I had a cold drink. I dozed off into cat naps next to my husband on a cabana.
One afternoon, I laid on a white floaty while my girls jumped and splashed and cackled. I basked in the warm healing sunlight, much needed during a long Montana March (which is still winter). My body laid on the white floaty and my hands rested on the surface of the swimming pool water, gently splashing, fingertips touching the liquid, lightly bouncing, submerging, enjoying the buoyancy of the water.
After a week of what felt like a music-less timeframe, perhaps even a void, I wondered what profound insight I might have about music to share with you.
We arrived home Saturday night and I woke up Sunday morning tired and softly groggy. I grabbed an espresso and sat at the piano bench, expecting nothing. Then something unexpected happened. A sat down with cleared mind, devoid of expectation. Relaxed and tired hands met the keys; my jaw was relaxed too. My hands rested on the white keys the same way they had rested on the top of the swimming pool water while half-sleeping on the white floaty- light, gentle, relaxed, full of enjoyment and stillness of movement.
This is the sound I have heard before. This is the sound I’ve longed to achieve, but didn’t know how. Was I this stressed out before vacation? After a line of music I noticed my jaw started to tense up out of habituation. I wiggled my lower jaw to relax my TMJ muscles. This tension is a habit and not a good one. I will return to the water; I will relax. I will allow the sounds to flow like water. I will sit still in this moment and bask in the sunlight of these colorful chords.
I’ve been reading books like “The Secret Piano.” I adore Professor Pan’s advice, though now it still seems strictly academic. How can we make beautiful music and enjoy it? Why do we judge ourselves so harshly? Why do we always compare ourselves the pros? Why do we worry about things outside ourselves and engage in mental chatter? Why? Why? Why?
American culture at times feels like riding a race horse in the desert heat. We are dehydrated and working full speed ahead, to get ahead, to make progress, yet this can be counteractive and counterintuitive. How on earth can we live a peaceful life if inside we are not at peace? How can we make peaceful art if our minds and bodies are filled with thoughts, competition and stress? I believe in hard work, but why do we call it “hard”?
Let us work with inner stillness, peace, relaxation. Let us share the inner stillness with others. It will help others slow down and live in the moment, in the breath and empty spaces between notes and chords, in the silence between heart beats.
I don’t want to give you the impression that I’ve arrived. I do not play music to say I’ve arrived. I play music to say I’m alive. And living is full of both love and heartbreak. While I was on vacation, my beloved horse Buffy died. This opened up some pain in my heart that perhaps I had buried when I lost my best friend Jean a few years ago. Buffy was part of my healing process after Jean left and now Buffy is gone too. There is an empty space.
Perhaps in the empty space, in the breath between the chords, one can hear the emotion that sits quietly in my heart. It is both pain and joy. It is surrendering to God.
I thought I would have nothing to say to you after a musicless week, but as it turns out, I think I’ve finally come to an epiphany I’ve been searching for with piano over the last few years of playing. Can I play the piano piece perfectly yet? No. But it’s starting to sound more like water, sunshine, heartbreak and healing.
Words and pics Molly Mitchell (c) 2016. All Rights Reserved.