I’ve decided that for my birthday this year I’m going to play one of Beethoven’s piano sonatas for my some of my friends. Since I’m a moderately respectable pianist – an enthusiastic amateur who once trained quite seriously – the guys at the Baycourt Theatre next door don’t mind if I test drive their $250,000 Steinway piano. So I’m going to give it a blast. I’ve been practising for a week, for not even eight hours in total since I decided to go ahead with it.
Those eight hours have been the most enjoyable few hours that I’ve had for a long time. It’s ages since I’ve lost myself in a piece of classical music. I came home from work last week all churned up over something and I sat at the piano and played all evening. It was like a magic carpet ride.
The piece I’m going to play is one that I’ve been playing on and off for over ten years. Every few years I dust it off and try to master it again. I love it and it beats me every time.
You’d think that ten years of fiddling around with the same 15 minute long score would uncover all of the possibilities yet I continue to find new nuances to explore, new ways of approaching it. Practicing this piece generates a relationship with the music, with the piano and even with Beethoven himself. How totally amazing that I get to engage with his thoughts at such an intimate level. I connect and wrestle with the music. I journey with it. Practicing music is like mining, drilling deeper and deeper into your own self. This is not anything that I can ever hope to share with anyone else.
Some of my best friends are going to hear me play, but only my wife has ever really, really heard me play classical music. (Usually while she’s pottering around the house in the background.) I can jam and mess around on the piano with casual flamboyance, but when I play classical music I am at my most private, much more personal than poetry, which I can recite with a smirk. With the piano there’s no tomfoolery. I am working at the very limits of my ability and my technique, and I am trying to reach beyond the technical demands to find the most perfect expression of emotion. Other people very rarely get to see me in that mode.
Of course, I desperately want them to get a sense of my passion for the music. They won’t, just as I can’t experience the deepest emotions my friend experiences when she catches a wave against the sunset. I can catch my own waves but at the end of the day it’s a personal journey for everyone. The best I can do is play the damn thing as well as I can on the day and hope my friends will catch a glimpse of something beautiful.