My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How often do I really "play" the piano?

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Every once in a while I am hit in the head with the enormity of the gift that music-making is to me.  Yes, I love to listen to music but it's the actual physical music-making that really gets to the core of me, that has the power to transform my mood instantly, to turn a feeling of hopelessness into hopefulness, to turn a grumpy, on-the-edge mom into a patient, loving one.  Fortunately for me, music-making includes practicing, rehearsing, attending someone's lesson, performing - anything involving me at an instrument.  I am experiencing this gift almost daily. 

But what strikes me every so often is how infrequently I actually find myself just "playing" at the piano.  The majority of time I'm at an instrument I am working; I am a mom, I am a wife - time is precious.  I am also a perfectionist that loves practicing (truly!), loves coming up with goals for myself - it is very hard to turn my brain off.  But when I really think about it, one thing seems so obvious to me.  I, as a musician, should take the time to just "play" in the childhood sense of the word; to play for amusement, to play in a completely selfish way, to get lost in play.  It is in these rare moments that I often sense the joy of music again, that I discover a composer's language, that I get swept up in music's broad strokes instead of getting lost in detailed scratches in the canvas.  It is also when I am reminded of gift that music-making is to me. 

This past weekend was my daughter's 6th birthday party.  Such events stress me out to no end and this most recent one was no exception.  It didn't help that the complaints started just as our alarm was going off in the morning.  The dress she wanted to wear had a spot on it, the bows she wanted to wear in her hair didn't match any other dress in her closet, she was sure the cake was going to have the wrong colors on it...Needless to say, my husband and I were quickly becoming very disagreeable ourselves.  All at once, however, just when I thought I was going to break, the cloud in my mind cleared and it dawned on me that I could afford to walk downstairs, sit at the piano, and just play.  No wait, let's change that to, "I couldn't not afford to play."  After quickly working out that I had about 20 minutes before I had to start preparing food, that is what I did.  I opened my Bach Well-Tempered Clavier, turned to the first prelude and fugue from book II and began.  Before I knew it I was well into the second set, and then the third.  It was wonderful.  It was transforming.  It was a personal re-gifting of my very own gift.  I finished playing as I heard my husband and daughter return from the bakery.  Even though their errand had a predictable ending (the cake was the "wrong" color - grrrr!), my husband said, "Thank you for playing.  I really enjoyed hearing it." 

That was the clincher for me.  His words were a reminder that my gift, re-gifted to myself, was  also a gift for him.  

So as I'm staring summer break in the eyes, with my daughter home with us during the day for the first time since she was a toddler, I am writing this post to remind myself that yes, I do need to take the time to play this summer.  I am sure it will be just the gift I need to get me, and perhaps us, through the next few months of extreme togetherness.  

May this gift last a bit longer than the new groovy girl princess that has already been forgotten.  


  1. Erica - I could not agree more! Play is so important, not only for musicians' health (I laughed at some of the descriptive labels for your post: anxiety, blood pressure...) but also for their musical development. A playful mood and attitude can actually facilitate learning. I admire the way you connect your personal and professional lives, and learn from what your daughter and your students "teach" you. An inspiration for us all.


  2. Bob,
    I think it was largely a conversation with you earlier that inspired this blog post. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, in a bit of a clinical, analytical way. Then this weekend, as I said in the post, it literally hit me in the head and through me for a glorious loop.

    It also occurs to me that you talk a lot about improvisation on your blog, which makes me think about jazz musicians. It seems as if musicians in other genres and in other cultures for that matter, depend on this spirit of "play," otherwise their music wouldn't really work. Perhaps that's another angle for me to think about.

    Thank you as always, for your comments and for reading.


  3. As a child taking lesson, my favorite part of practice time was when I had completed all my assigned songs and could free play to meet my mother's required length of practice. Often I would get so into the moment, my siblings would have to interrupt so they could get their practicing done, too. Thanks for the reminder of the fun of playing music.

  4. Your very welcome, JoAnn. You had great discipline to wait until you had already gotten everything in and practiced before treating yourself some real playing - I'm impressed. I wasn't nearly so disciplined then.

    I just took another look at your website and have to say that I have so much respect for the field of music therapy. I didn't know much about it prior to joining twitter but I've encountered so many there that it's made me much more aware of all that you do for so many different types of people. In fact, I just reconnected with an old friend from middle school who has a daughter that might be able to benefit from music therapy so I've pointed her in that direction.

    So thank you for all that you do. It is largely because of you and those in your field that I have made it a point to see music as more than just entertainment and more than just culture. It has lasting benefits for all!

    I look forward to continuing to follow you and converse with you.

    Happy playing :-)