I have several favorite kinds of days in my repertoire, and one of the things I have learned along my Slow Love Life journey is to recognize when I've gone too long without one. Time to schedule. Field trip days, for instance, when I just go somewhere I've never been--preferably in the company of an equally enthusiastic friend. Or writing days, when I can sit and let my thoughts flow forth freely, without an assignment or a deadline. Or Long Walk Days. Or Study Hall Days, when I read science.
Or hard-driving productive work days. The fact is, I've had innumerable ones in the last year. I had forgotten (one must, as with childbirth) how time-consuming a startup is, and Moms Clean Air Force is no exception. (And we have entered a critical period for protecting strong mercury standards and your support is urgently needed.) Luckily I love this kind of creative work--when I'm not feeling total terror that there is no rule book to follow. What do we do now? We're making it up as we fly.
All of which is a long way of getting around to saying that I have not indulged myself in a piano day in way too long. But last week, my mother and I attended a transcendently beautiful Carnegie Hall recital by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. He opened with Haydn's Sonata in C Minor, the piece I had been working on when I last closed the lid on my grand.
I won't review the concert here, but for those of you not familiar with Andsnes I urge an immediate trip to Amazon for discs. He is stunningly, gorgeously, powerfully not flashy--a quality I increasingly admire. And by this I mean that his playing is so clear and clean, so precise, yet so loving, that the architecture of the pieces he plays is brilliantly revealed, and one hears (and almost sees) connections inside the pieces as never before--as well as connections between composers. I had never thought to link Bartok to Haydn until that evening. Unlike many pianists who have exquisite techniques but are cool, if not cold, in their interpretations, Andsnes has huge heart, and he gives that to his music, but--and again, unlike the flashily passionate, if entertaining, performances of others who will go unnamed--he is ardently respectful of the composer's intentions; he does not overwhelm.
(And I see now that you can hear this recital on WQZR. And, Anthony Tommasini's review, which I've now read after writing the above, is right on target. Do I say that because I agree? No, I always admire his criticism.)
All of which is another long way of getting around to saying that I floated home, and the next day, lifted the lid of the keyboard, and got back to...playing.
But this time was different. I wasn't hearing any of those voices telling me what to do, or not do. I was not even working. I was on my own.
The last time this happened was years ago, at the crack of dawn during my Annus horribilis after losing my job, selling my home, and all the rest of it (described in Slow Love.) Early one morning, I went to the piano, and started crawling my way through Bach's Goldberg Variations. And without quite realizing it, I slipped into what became an Annus mirabilis. (And here I break to recommend you all listen to both Glenn Gould recordings--one made at the start of his career in 1955, and one recorded toward the end of his life.)
In typical fashion, I became obsessed and would only play Bach, mainly because I had always loathed his work as a student, and suddenly, I heard it, and I wanted to live in it. It clarified my entire world.
This time around, I hauled out everything I have always loved. I played through the Haydn a few times, then moved on to Beethoven Sonatas. And then I went back to the Romantics, who, perhaps inexplicably, perhaps obviously, I had been avoiding; I slipped into Liszt, threaded my way to Chopin, remembered how, full of teenage angst, I used to weep my way through those Nocturnes, and then I dove into the Philip Glass Metamorphoses, in honor of his upcoming birthday...
....and then I remembered how, one summer at Interlochen Music Camp, where I spent six hours a day in a small wood cabin practicing, I became terrified that my mother was going to send me to Juilliard where I would be chained to a piano and live that way for the rest of my life....
...So I decided to become a doctor and enroll in pre-med at Wellesley.
Needless to say, this did not last. I have too much English major coursing through my blood.
I've stopped beating myself up for all the things I failed to do. If I could return to Earth in however many years and start over, I would, indeed, be a doctor, preferably a surgeon. I love the bloody intricacy. But then I would be sorry that I never learned to conduct an orchestra, something I yearn to do. Or play a harpsichord, another dream. (To say nothing of my astronaut fantasy, which lasted years.) Surely there are more lifetimes ahead?
This weekend I have a cold. I am not going to yoga class--unlike the woman who had the mat next to me last time, and hacked through her practice....and why did I not move? Because I was more worried about karma than I was about kleenex and I did not want to seem judgmental or rejecting. Really, the stuff that comes up during yoga...Lesson learned. Accompanied by sniffles, I indulged in a Piano Weekend.
Because I have developed carpal tunnel problems from all the Work Days, I gave myself breaks from the keyboard every once in a while, and organized the linen closet. (I cannot think what the connection might be. Oh. No. I just remembered the connection....the stereo equipment in my parents' house lived in the linen closet, so, while practicing--a required two hour daily minimum in our house, as my mother had had serious Conservatory training during her childhood in Casablanca--pretending that I was going to listen to some ornamentation or phrasing, I would paw through the heavy linens that had been part of my mother's trousseau, and that were never used because who would want to iron it? And who belonged to all those mysterious monograms embroidered at the tops? Who, really, was my mother? Where did she come from? Such are the questions forever linked, in my heart, to Chopin Nocturnes. Music is the bond of love between me and my mother.)
Here it is, the last day of the long weekend. I am now officially behind on various deadlines, my expense reports will not be filed in a timely fashion, nor will my taxes, nor will my files be reorganized so that I can find a place to eat at my kitchen table. Who cares?
Schedule those Favorite Kinds of Days. The wonderful thing about giving yourself that time to simply fall into a practice that you love is that it opens up rich veins of memory--and pushes into wide channels of feeling, and of joy. It gives you a way to look forward even as you might be thinking back. It is playing, letting go of direction and control, in the best sense of the word, something that we think we were supposed to give up when we became adults--at our peril.