In Which I’m Rediscovering A Piece Of Myself

Sometimes I forget how blessed I am that what I do and who I am are the same thing. I may have a crazy-busy life with too many irons in the fire, but if you were to boil me down to the essentials, you’d be left with wife, mother, Catholic, creator. With very few exceptions, what I spend my days doing is who I am.

Not everyone gets to say that. A lot of people enjoy their jobs and are very good at them, but very few people get to go to work to do exactly what they would do anyway, because it’s who they are at the core.

Photo by Bookmouse, via Flickr

A few weeks ago I set a goal of preparing a recital. Out of all my “irons,” my flute playing has been the one that’s fallen by the wayside. The chops you need for playing church and weddings just aren’t the chops you need for playing Lieberman and Ibert (the centerpieces of my senior and graduate recitals.) So I haven’t had a lot of motivation to keep up the daily habit. But the creative muscle you exercise is the one that produces, and besides, there are little flurps in my playing now that nobody else can hear, but that drive me crazy. Fingers that don’t want to lift in unison. Lack of fluidity. Uneven, unpredictable tone quality. The only remedy is regular practice. But I’m spread too thin to be able to practice just because. Ergo: a recital.

I did pretty well as long as I was discerning a program, but then I started trying to figure out how to prepare an hour’s worth of music when I only have half an hour to forty minutes a day.

My head nearly exploded. I know how to prepare a recital with four hours’ practice a day. Forty minutes of tone study. Run the scales. Do an etude. Then pick one piece at a time and spend the last two hours thusly: hit either the problem spots or run it through for musical phrasing and endurance. That’s how you prepare a recital.

On half an hour a day? I got nothin’.

I stopped practicing altogether for about ten days.

And then I took myself in hand. Pulled out a piece of paper and started a practice log: what pieces, what movements, and what I’d worked on.

I’ve practiced 3 hours and 40 minutes since the 24th of July. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic. But it’s regular and anyway, it’s all the time I have. Getting downstairs for ten or fifteen minutes, as I did a couple of days, and digging in on one small spot, is better than deciding it’s not worth it at all.

It hasn’t been as productive a summer as I’d hoped on the writing front–I set my expectations pretty low, and managed to undershoot them by a mile–because with my mix of kids who need naps, kids who think they don’t need naps, and kids who are clearly too big for naps, I have virtually zero undistracted time. It is really hard to focus on putting words, themes and concepts together when you have a constant narrative of bickering and barely-comprehensible shouting and Christmas songs and “Twinkle Twinkle” in the background. (To wit: at present, Michael’s on my lap grabbing for the mouse, putting his hands on top of mine and pushing the keyboard platform in and out; Nicholas is singing while moving his tongue back and forth across his mouth, and Julianna’s shouting “Alee! Alee!”)

Flute practicing, though–that I can do with kids around. I can’t hear everything, but I can hear enough for what I’m working on, and a lot of it is in the feel, anyway.

Why yes, I can in fact read all those ledger lines at a glance.
Why yes, I can in fact read all those ledger lines at a glance.

And it feels good. I’ve missed this part of myself. There’s a particular warmth in the hands and the lips after I’ve practiced, the warmth of small muscles well exercised, and the hum in my veins, as if my blood is carrying music around my body, filling me up until my whole person hums with it.

It hasn’t translated to musical output yet (i.e. composition), but mostly I think that’s because I don’t have time to sit down at the piano. When school gets back in session, two of the kids will be gone altogether, and another will be gone two mornings, and Michael will still be napping twice a day. Until then, I’m just trying to get done what I have to get done.

To keep myself honest, I’m going to report in periodically–probably mostly via 7 Quick Takes. Hold me accountable, people. And if you’re one of my local readers, come hear me play when the time comes. It’ll be sometime next spring.

Program (tentative; also not the most ambitious ever, considering I’ve performed two of these before, and another is high school level. But hey, it’s a place to start):

Carl Reinecke: Sonata “Undine”

Paul Hindemith: Acht Stucke

Maurice Ravel: Piece en forme de Habanera

Ernest Bloch: Suite Modale

Pierre Sancan: Sonatine