Monday, March 3, 2014

How does this piece go again??

So apparently I'm a musical performer now..  :-)  It's weird to say it like that.  The road here has been kinda long and wind-y. It is weird to think of it in this perspective because playing music had been absent from my life for any meaningful amount for well over half of it.  And now it is almost a daily part of it in one way or another. Perhaps some history might be beneficial for this story.

A long time ago... in a state far far away (ok, only 1600 miles, but when you want to stay away from where you grew up, you'll take every mile you can get), I, like many middle-income suburban kids my age ended up getting lessons in an instrument. My instrument of choice (or in this case, chosen for me) was piano.

I think I want to side-step for a moment to point out that, as I remember of a lot of my childhood, most of these sorts of choices of activities were not mine.  I don't know if it was that I was so socially stunted or that I just didn't find interest in things presented at the time, but I remember ending up in the middle of a lot of things that I never chose to do that often I never enjoyed.  But in my family, choice wasn't something I tended to get very much, and I hadn't yet developed enough in my position as an individual to provide adequate foundation for my refusal. :-)  Piano, soccer, fund-raisers, dealing with the neighbor-girl who both wanted me to be her boyfriend while simultaneously wanting to kick the crap out of me.  Interesting the things you remember, and the speculations of how they set things in motion for later. :-)  But more stories for another time.

Piano.. yes.  From the time I was 9ish, I took piano lessons from this wonderful teacher.  She was part of the National Federation of Music Clubs and her students were part of "Friends of Schroeder".  Once a year, we would meet at the music department of the University of New Mexico, along with other performers from the state, and we'd perform privately for judges at what the NFMC called Festival. I remember the first few times I played pieces for the judges.  I was petrified and I was always impressed that I managed to get through it without seriously screwing up or just completely losing it. Generally, it was considered good form to dress up for this event, and to carry yourself in a certain manner befitting the "seriousness" of the competition.  We didn't compete against each other.  More, we competed against ourselves.  Teachers were given a list of several approved performance pieces appropriate for each level, and teachers and students would pick out a piece to learn and perform for that Festival.  Judges would rate you on your performance and you'd receive a certificate with an overall rating.  Highest to lowest, the ratings were: Superior, Excellent, Satisfactory, Fair, Needs Improvement. My first year, I received a Superior for my efforts.  The subsequent two years, I received Superiors as well, and garnered my first 3-win Cup.  Three more years later, three more Superiors and my second cup (Six consecutive Superiors).

By my 8th year, and my Sophomore year in high school, I had two more Superiors behind me for a total of eight.  Keeping up with the trend, I would be on track for my 9th and third award cup my Junior year.
What  I remember as I went along was not that the music challenged me so much as the overall experience of being judged and the psychology of working through those emotions and my feelings about them.  In fact musically as the years went on, I found myself less and less challenged by the required pieces.  
I would presume from all this that I probably had a fair amount of talent at the time, and the lack of challenge and growing disinterest really distracted me from taking things seriously and doing anything useful with my talents.  As the years moved by, I found myself less and less interested in putting forth effort into my studies, and even though I had started to challenge myself by finding difficult pieces that I wanted to play and spent some time working through them, I had lost a lot of ground and momentum, and things really started falling apart.

My junior year, I was given a piece to learn, and I made a half-hearted attempt to learn it.  When Festival rolled around, I had gotten really bored with the whole process and didn't take it seriously in the slightest.  I recall driving myself  to the university.  My parents didn't attend that year.  I drove with my girlfriend at the time, and I didn't bother dressing up. I awaited my turn, walked in when I was called, sat down at the piano, played the piece flawlessly, was excused, and then went home. That year, I was awarded my 9th and final Superior along with my 9-year cup.  That was the last time I ever attended, and quit lessons almost immediately after. Somehow amidst all this, I missed the greater message of it all.  In typical teenager form, I thought it all about me, and felt it was a huge joke that it seemed too easy to get perfect marks on my performances for something I really cared so little about.

Not long after high school, life got complicated for various reasons, and I gave up on playing.
Even with all that talent, that was all it ever was.  Playing.  Never performing.  Somehow I never stumbled on, or cared to look for an outlet for my piano playing all those years.  My parents never particularly encouraged me that I recall, and I never took it upon myself to find opportunities.  I don't remember deliberately turning anything down, but I seem to remember piano and music not being something I considered a part of my identity.  So  I never worked to make it so.

As the years started rolling by, I'd have opportunities to sit at a piano and plink.  I never considered it much more than that, and I never really developed a repertoire.   I had about 3 or 4 pieces that I learned well enough to at least plink around with, and I remember fits and starts involving moments of trying to drag those pieces out of memory and play around with them for my own amusement.  Never with the intent to perform.. Just to fulfill a need that I didn't fully understand then that I had. Those pieces were: Time Out by Paul Desmond and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Bourree by JS Bach, Feur Elise by Beethoven, and Prelude #2 by George Gershwin.I learned to play most of all of those back in those last years of my lessons, and those four stuck with my like glue even though, for example, the Geshwin I never finished learning the piece and would repeat the parts I knew over and over hoping to find the momentum to learn the rest.Years turned into decades, and that was about as far as I ever got.  I never really associated with anybody for whom musical performance was an important part of their life, and I just never really took any of it particularly seriously.

In recent years, having had pianos and keyboards come in and out of my life over the past 20 years, I found myself without, and by chance, friends were in the process of moving, and had an older keyboard that was taking up space that they weren't using anymore.  They were happy to get rid of it, and I remember being excited to inherit it.  It was beat up and a little worse for the wear, but it played well enough.
Around this time, I also ended up with a couple of guitars and a budding interest in doing more with them, but the frustrations of 20 years ago really talked me out of really deciding to devote time to them.  Or the keyboard.. Or anything else musical.

Always funny how life changes will send you off in a new direction or will help you refine an existing one.
A little over 3 years ago, I had the privilege to get to know someone whom I had only ever known as "that gorgeous gal who plays in that band".As luck (or as I prefer to consider it, destiny) would have it, she was very much a musician and performer, and as I got to know her better, and ultimately fell in love with her, I saw that we both shared a fundamental perspective on music. It moved us in very distinct and similar ways, and early on, it served as a means for us to bond. Later, it demonstrated the undeniable link of our souls.
Music now became a part of my life if just in support of my performing sweetie.  I started attending her concerts and helping her set up, and became a familiar face. And there were talks of possible distant collaborations of things.

About this time, I got tapped to be on a stage-forward role for a group that I work with called Eleusyve Productions.  They are a theatrical production company that produces esoteric rock-opera renderings of the plays of the Rites of Eleusis.  Typically, I have served a more backstage role which included set building and prop making, and helping our stage manager, lighting crew, or sound guys with various off-stage things.  But for that year, I played a singing role on stage.  I found it challenging and rewarding to work with an ensemble, and it gave me an opportunity to decide how I felt being on the business end of the stage.  I apparently didn't suffer from acute stage fright which was good to know.  I recognized that I didn't seem to find that performer's high that I hear about, but it could be that I hadn't yet found my place yet on stage to allow for that to happen.  But I enjoyed working as a team and had fun with our group.  I also discovered that I had some raw material of value musically, and took that away as something to pursue.

As always time moves onward.  My sweetie was tapped to play an important role this year at a musical festival here in Seattle called Conflikt, and these sorts of things sometimes mean that the person in question gets time to perform a concert.  As she was building sets and writing songs, guitar players, cello players, singers, and other violin players were all accounted, but at least two pieces would require a pianist.  With a little bit of trepidation, I volunteered, and the rest, as they say, is history. This then led to me also playing brushes on snare for a piece in the set, and that led me down a path of playing drums for not only my sweetie, but others as well, and other sets for other concerts!

The drums are a bit of a surprise on one hand since I've never taken the opportunity up until recently to study them in particular.  I have always had a certain rhythmic sense, particularly in a way that I expressed through my hands by tapping or clapping or otherwise creating a beat, and I think that helped a lot with jumping into percussion.  I have a whole lot to learn, but I was pleased that I was able to provide something with the tools I already had.  And I have plans to develop more as time goes on.

My recent piano performances were a little rough.  It's one thing to practice hard and have a piece memorized, but it's another to perform it under the stress of a live performance in front of an audience when such a thing is a new experience.  Given more opportunity to perform, I'm confident I'll be able to get over the issues I experienced while playing these last few times.

In the meantime, my interest in playing is renewed and coupled with an interest to perform.  I've started working on a few original things and covers, and of course some more collaborations.  And given all things, I'm sure I'll find more opportunities to perform, be it voice, drums, or piano.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to practice!

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