It was the first truly beautiful weekend day of spring, and there we all were, mid-Sunday afternoon, indoors, dressed up, sitting silently, attention fixed on the individual at the front of the room. Listening attentively, clapping appreciatively. Shifting slightly in our folding chairs while the next player settled themselves on the bench and placed fingers on the keyboard.
Ahhhh, piano recitals.
Yes, you remember, don’t you? The clammy hands, the nervous stomach, the sense that you don’t quite have the piece as memorized as you should. Or maybe not. Maybe that’s just my memory of my own recitals.
But I know it isn’t just me, because I can see it on the faces of the young players as they approach the bench. Some with joy, some with feigned nonchalance, some with ill-hidden dread.
They sit. They play. They finish. They bow.
But the magic happens in the middle.
In the middle, when their fingers reach for the keys as their minds reach for the music, is where it gets interesting. And what I noticed, surreptitiously glancing about, is that when a child plays their pieces easily, we are leaned back, relaxed. Our concentration is low. But when there is a hesitation, a missed note, the audience is pulled into the action. We lean forward as if to offer our support. We hold our breath. What will happen next? We watch, not the fingers, but the face of the player.
Grimace. Cringe. Quiet Laughter. Headshake in disbelief. Mumbling aloud. Start again. Sometimes starting over from the offending measure, sometimes from the start of the section, and sometimes all the way back at the beginning. And again. And again. And for some, yet again. For some, it ends in surprise. For some, in triumph. And for some, for some the focus of the mind is too flooded with feelings, the fingers and mind break their union and they cannot go on.
All those months of time with their teacher. All those hours of practice on their own. All culminating in this one performance, this one moment in time.
Because while on the left hand it is about the music, on the right hand, it isn’t at all. What does it mean to perform? What does practice look like? What are our expectations? What do we do when we stumble? Because we will. Each of us will make mistakes, strike the wrong note. Sometimes in the private space of our own minds, sometimes in the public arena of others.
So what’s the piano lesson?
Grace. It isn’t about achieving perfection, it’s about being fully human. Grace allows us to abandon the rigidity of a 4/4 march and sway into the softness of a 3/4 waltz. Grace reminds us that within the music there is joy, no matter how technically proficient the execution. Grace invites us to celebrate the accomplishments of ourselves and others each step of the way. Grace calls – come as you are.
Practice. Play. Perform. Gracefully. How are you composing your life? Keep me posted.