Wednesday, November 9, 2011


         My shoulders are tight, my back is tight, something feels wrong.  I am frustrated.  What is it?  Is there stiffness in my body while I’m playing?  Maybe it’s the new piano.  Old and with broken keys but new to me.  The keyboard sits very tall and instead of a proper bench I sit on a lovely, yet not so comfortable stool that feels precariously high.  I will talk to Mario about it tomorrow during my lesson.  Right now all I feel is tight and frustrated.
         Today, there is an undercurrent of nerves, an anxiousness...a perception I should be somewhere other than I am, farther along perhaps.  The subtle thought, or maybe fear that I’ll never get there.  I’ll never be able to play like that, like him, like her.  And there it is, my old friend Impatience.  Familiar and wearing me like a favorite old sweater, rearing it’s ugly, manipulative head again.
         Why would I think I’ll never get there?  That makes no sense, if I keep going of course I’ll get there, I’ll get somewhere anyways.  Alas, I know why I think that, it’s a commonplace of the mind...the trick is will I believe that thought?  Today looks to be an uphill battle but tomorrow is my lesson and I want to have a full page of the new song done, Clementi’s Sonatina in G Major.
     “Some days it will just be like this,” I think.  So, I decide to just keep practicing.  
     It’s now the end of the night, and though not totally free of frustration, I’m slightly happy to report that some breakthroughs were made.  When I started the day I felt I couldn’t get a phrase to remain in my head, but by bedtime I had almost the first section solid, only a few bars to get tomorrow.  I didn’t give up.  I didn’t avoid practicing.  I tried my best.  A simple concept indeed!

         As I’ve been writing this I’ve been listening to Lang Lang perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 Opus 18 I, II.  The album was a gift from Evan Frankfort, a dear friend who helped set me solidly on the path of believing in myself as an artist, and produced my album All These Things.  When he heard of my blog, he graciously sent the album right over, for inspiration I’m sure.  Thanks Evs!
         Of course, in keeping with the theme of the day, my first thoughts when hearing it were something like, “Oh my God, I’ll never be able to play that!  Who do I think I am?  It’s way too late in life to try and learn.  I’ll never be able to play with that intensity.  How does he do that?  I wish I hadn’t quit.  What if I hadn’t quit?  I should just quit now.  No, I won’t quit but certainly should set my sights lower."
         The Concerto No. 2 plays on repeat as I write to you of today’s struggles.  It won’t always be about struggles but I firmly believe in the power of sharing the bad with the good and the healing that can come when we know we’re not alone in the ache of it all.  As this journaling comes to a close I feel my heart soften and my shoulders loosen from the vice grip they’ve been under all day.
          I start the song over.  I close my eyes.  Such beautiful whilst ominous opening chords.  I love the sound of gentle strength, foreboding but drawing me in.  Stronger, stronger, stronger...and then the strings join in, oh my!  I take a deep breath and sink into the music.  I am lost in it.  It takes me places far away.  As the music washes over me so too does hope, and my dreams are rekindled.  As is the desire to play...anything at all.  Suddenly, impatience has given way to the excitement of not knowing where this journey of mine will take me and that makes me feel truly alive.  
         Because when I’m not trying to get anywhere I get everywhere.

Songs While Writing: (click on song to link)
Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor Opus 18
Clementi: Sonatina in G Major (and all 6 Sonatinas)

Sunday, November 6, 2011


         All of life seems to be leading to the practicing of patience these days. Perhaps, it always has been but I am only just now opening my eyes to the importance of learning how to attain it.  Discovering ways to nurture and breathe into it.  While I have always known I lacked patience, I seemed somehow resigned to that fact, as if this ‘never enough’ and ‘hurry up’ way of life were a curse I could never be free of.  Never considering that patience is a virtue, an art really, one can actually develop.  Funny, simple concept indeed!
         These new thoughts have begun to spider web, brought on by a decision to master the piano, branching out into my life in ways I could not have imagined.
         I have the most incredible maestro for a teacher.  His name is Mario Merdirossian and we have been studying together for just about 6 mos.  He says the most incredible things when he talks to me about how to play.  He watches and listens and can hear the slightest hiccups in my playing so as to explain how and why to correct it.  Gems of wisdom, I hang on every word!  Taking it in, watching him play, showing me how the wrists must move, how the shoulders and arms are relaxed yet have weight, how the pinky finger needs to strike the key in a precise way or it will always be weak and so many, many other nuances I know are building a strong foundation.  One that will allow the ease and grace I want to embody when I play.
         This day my arms were tired, my shoulders were tight.  It just didn't feel good and I was beginning to get frustrated.  “Tension Comes From Anticipation,” he said.  It clicked the second he said it.  “Wait, let me write that down!” And so it is, pinned on the bulletin board which sits on my piano, reminding me to stay in each note.  Not to be ahead in the next phrase or in what’s coming up.  Not to think but just to be, let my fingers play each note led by the wrist and the arms.
         I have suffered under a lifetime of unrealistic expectations.  Imposed by self, by an egoist mind that would have nothing but perfection in every area. Always looking for ways my life or I fall short.  Ever building the ‘if this then that’ mentality, forever robbing me of the moment.
         And here it is, in the piano, I’ve found a place to practice letting it all go.  If I want to play like Mario one day I must learn to have patience.  I must allow that today I am where I am and it is enough.  I must sit down to practice at the level I am today, for no amount of thinking about it will make me better.  It will only come from the doing of the thing.  Mario says that if I find myself distracted at the piano I must get up and walk away, take a break, come back and only play when all my attention is in the keys.  It’s better to play for 15 minutes with absolute focus than 2 hrs with a distracted mind.
         Tension comes from anticipation.  Anticipation comes from the fear of not knowing.  In the piano the fear is will I play it perfectly?  No room for mistakes.  Will I be good enough?  When will I be good enough?  In life, the fear comes from a lack of faith.  What will happen to me?  How will I make ends meet?  Will I succeed?  Will they like my music?  Will I find love?  Will love find me?  Will my loved one heal their illness?  Will my dog be ok?  Will my child be happy?  Will my marriage survive?  Will I survive...whatever this is?  All these things in life that distract me from the present, that all have such importance, more importance than the moment or so I believe.  Ah ha, tension comes from anticipation!  I see! It is such in life too!  And so, I have begun to practice being in each note.  Not in the next note or even the next phrase but, giving each note importance and letting the melody unfold with grace and beauty.  As with the piano, so too in life.
         Rather than spending time anticipating today (a fancy word for being in the future) and thus causing tension, I endeavor to have faith, to let it unfold with beauty and ease.  Life has a way of being more full and awe inspiring when I let it happen rather than trying to determine and decipher it using my small mind that could never imagine such grace.  Already this journey between the piano and I is showing itself to be one of the soul.  And I feel grateful to bid adieu to unrealistic expectations dressed in costumes of anticipation.

Sonata for Piano No. 12 in F Major, K. 332: II. Adagio
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performed by: Carmen Piazzini

Suite Bergamasque, L 75: Clair de Lune (Orchestral Arrangement)
Composer: Claude Debussy
Performed by: Mostar Symphony Orchestra, Tibor Bauer & Ilmar Lapinsch

Thursday, November 3, 2011


         I was 7 yrs old when I started playing the piano (rather than banging on it with a baton because I liked the sound it made, never minding the chips it was making in the ivory keys.  Sorry, Grandma and Grandpa!)  I studied the Suzuki Method with Helene Hancock, a magical silver haired lady with a grand piano in the living room of her beautiful Craftsman style house down the street.  I would walk down the hill for my lesson every week.  I can still remember the smell of her home, a sweet top note with tobacco undertones.  And the feel; cozy and warm, the air calm and thick with serenity.
         Twinkle Twinkle Little Star...the first song I remember in Book 1 of a 4 Book Method.  I loved it, I did.  It is true however, I often would have to be forced to sit down at the piano to practice, but once I did you couldn’t get me up.  I could pause here and write of just this one topic...that of perfectionism from such a young age.  Wanting, no needing, to be perfect at once.  No patience or latitude given to myself for less than perfection.  Mixed in with an uncanny way of ‘picking things up quickly’ and resting on my laurels....for 40 years it seems!
         Towards the end of my playing, there was a girl who had her lesson right before mine, she was learning Joplin.  I wanted to learn Joplin too!  I was half way through Book 4 and then Joplin it would be...only I never got there.  I had a friend studying with another teacher, she was getting to learn Popular music, why was I learning this Classical?  It didn’t matter that I liked it, that it soothed me and brought me to focus, a seed of self doubt was planted.  Actually, nothing mattered, because teenage life was getting too big and I wanted it all (didn’t quite realize you had to actually do something to get it) and sure, didn’t I have it all once the boys, booze and other sundries came along?
         I studied with Helene for years, until I was 13 to be precise.  I had many recitals.  My memory of them is I’m sure, slightly twisted and dark of course.  They were usually at Cal Tech in some Grand Hall.  I just remember the feeling of not being ‘as good as’ the other kids.  They were like those prodigy types (or so I imagined,) how could I live up to that?  Thus the mind would begin; comparing, contrasting, no mistakes, no mistakes! Then of course, there were mistakes.  Little flubs, missteps of my fingers because my mind was in the way.  I had not yet understood that there would always be mistakes in life.  They are a necessity of growth.  They are to be honored, not pushed under the carpet of my mind.  I’m sure I sometimes performed well but that wouldn’t really have mattered for it had already begun, my shadow had already started eating away at my loves.
         And so, I quit.  My Mom got tired of forcing me to practice and in my myopic vision it was cutting into my fun.  The thing is, the music that was in me, the piano, the singing, writing and love for it didn’t quit.
         The road to regret was born.

Songs While Writing: (click song to link)
Francoise Hardy "Un Homme Est Mort"

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


This is for you Mom. As you read and are able to see the beginning workings of that which you support with all your loving heart. I learn more and more to make choices but of course, still remain your quite particular daughter who sees in the most intense detail. I will write a story to post by days end.   In honor of it being 11-1-11. But I must first sit at the piano. No writing, no nothing until I've been at the piano. Because I am visiting your house I hope you will hear today the progress I've made. Playing on my childhood piano at your house takes me right back to that young age, the age you remember well as you had to force me to sit down and practice but then force me to get up when it was time for dinner.

Could it be I am learning to channel those little Jilly forces? That force of nature who so violently would kick the back of your seat as you drove for who knows what reason...just had to get it out I guess. Those forces who, left un-channeled took me to dark places and swirling for answers I could never find outside myself.

The journey is just beginning. Yet I feel my fingers alive today, ready to learn and stretch. Ready to take over for my brain as they must when playing the pieces I aspire to. Funny it's the fingers, the wrists, the arms and shoulders, the body that play. The mind is only used for the learning and then must be let go...the answer was there all along Mama...

The piano is where I let go of my mind!

I love you dearly,