Monday, August 1, 2011

All roads lead to Rome...

I thought I should probably link to a thread on PianoWorld that I started about some of the issues I've been having as I return to piano, rather than recap everything here.

I've started playing again, but with breaks as the piano-related emotional overload I talked about there has come and gone. I've been pretty successful at working through the biter emotional residue lingering around the piano courtesy of the mean, bitter old lady who was my childhood piano teacher, and her ghost no longer haunts me. What haunted me instead was a memory which arose in response to another PW thread: the ghost of my mother's sarcastic commentary, shouted from the other room as I dutifully plodded through my dismal method book tunes

Again, I'll spare you the gory details, but let it suffice to say that my mother and I suffered a catastrophic failure of mother-child bonding (she suffered no such issue with my younger brother, making for a painful contrast throughout our childhood). She bought our piano and instigated my lessons, which turned them into yet another opportunity for me to try desperately (but invariably fail) to win her approval. As I said on PW, Iooking back I interpret our (visually attractive but virtually untunable) piano and my subsequent lessons as an expression of her new money class anxiety -- in reality, she never showed any interest in music, and turned out to loathe the sound of my practicing. Thus the constant sarcastic commentary on my grim practice efforts.

So this whole "Mom-thing" that I'd been working though in therapy turns out to have metastasized deeply into my relationship to the piano. But this has enabled me to use my "mental piano junk" as a pathway into some deeper issues which had been too distressing to access directly, so maybe all roads do lead to Rome. Or Mom. Or at least something productive, if one can be mindful of the luggage one has been lugging along.

Therefore the sage, travelling all day,
Does not lose sight of his baggage.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Working on my piano comeback

I've gone through several phases of obsessive pianism since I posted here last, as well as periods of craven piano neglect. I feel like I've neglected to notate all sorts of interesting and innovative practice strategies and their various benefits, and eventually I'll like to retrospectively record all of that. But I'm going to begin where I am now.

Which is not actually playing the piano yet. Over the past month I've been sporadically revisiting the Adult Beginners' Forum at, which generally indicates a renewal of interest in playing again. But I've been strangely reluctant to actually touch the instrument, and there's a story behind that. A long one, in fact, and I've been spending a lot of time the past few nights reviewing my musical history, and revisiting the origins of the difficult emotions that trouble me when I consider actually putting my hands to the keyboard.

Contextual digression: I have a long history of depression, but I was fortunate to find an excellent therapist, alongside a prescribing psychiatrist who has helped devise a cutting-edge pharmaceutical cocktail which really works. By that, I don't mean a mere emotional band-aid, but instead a pharmaceutical intervention that gives me the stability to process the emotional fallout of revisiting, and then reframing, the personal history which had made suicide a very tempting option from a disturbingly young age.

Don't worry, I'll spare you the gory details. What's relevant here is that I've learned techniques that allow me to approach and reprocess traumatic experiences in a way that is remarkably healing and liberating. And now I've begun applying these techniques to events in my musical history, which have, at times, made even touching the piano quite excessively fraught.

Over the past year, as I've been doing this kind of emotional work (and it is hard and harrowing work, never doubt it), I've experienced widely divergent effects on my piano playing. On one hand, I've experienced periods in which my music has blossomed with new dimensions of expressiveness and rhythmic flow -- qualities it had sorely lacked in times past! On the other hands, there have been other periods in which my emotional state has been far too raw to expose via music, if you have any feeling for what that might mean. These are times when my gut says quite clearly, "I can't go there right now" -- not by any means to be mistaken for the sort of funk that one needs to "just push through".

My current state feels transitional and fluid, rife with possibility. The work with my musical history that I've been doing the past few nights has been rewardingly transformative, to the extent that I wake up each morning feeling like I'm inhabiting a freshly rejuvenated body. I feel a deep, quiet faith that one of these days I'm going to sit down at the piano and play like I've never played before -- if I can keep up the work that's bringing me there.