Last night we had a music faculty recital with eight different performers to kick off our recital series for the school year. The turn out was great and the reception afterwards was a fun gathering of college students, community folks, and children and their families who take lessons in the Community School of the Arts.
I played some Bach, of course — the two preludes and fugues I learned first for this project during the month of August. I described No. 13 in F-sharp major to the listeners as amiable and lyrical and No. 15 in G major as perpetually-moving and energetic. I also told the audience that I am taking on this project because I feel certain these preludes and fugues have much to teach me both technically and musically. And while I didn’t say it last night, I’m convinced that attempting to learn the entire volume has a number of other life lessons to teach me as well. Naming the idea of the music being my teacher somehow takes a little pressure off the live performance paradigm, this strange scenario with its deeply-set conventions and expectations. I’m learning this music to learn, and performances in any setting are opportunities to share what I’ve been taught by the music, rather than to show what I can do.
Sharing what I learned went ok last night. I felt the stress of balancing teaching, administrative and practice demands this past week, and became aware by Thursday evening that I was practicing with too much urgency and tension. By Friday afternoon my left arm did not feel good, and I was struggling with some runs in the G major fugue. The opening pair in F-sharp major felt healing to me as an opener, and I tried to communicate the pure joy I feel when playing the G major prelude. I took the G major fugue a little slower than usual and while it wasn’t the best performance I could give, I felt reasonably in control of its myriad themes and episodes.
This idea of best performance was one of the places my mind went after leaving the stage. Relief merged with an all-too-familiar and so-often-echoed twinge of regret for musicians — it went better on my own! I’m accepting it may always be so. The best performances are often those when my family is asleep upstairs and I’m alone and done with my day, lost in the music at my Yamaha U1. It’s nearly midnight, and I play masterfully. No one else, except my cat Archie, hears this best performance. There is something a little bit sad, but also a little bit wonderful, about this.