Expecting the unexpected(ly awesome)

It’s at this time of year when I start getting excited about my trip to the US in July. My flights are booked, and I’ve managed to track down ever-elusive accommodation in New York with a grand piano.  While I always look forward to spending time with my special people in the US and my  favourite city on Earth (apart from Brisbane of course!), I’m also really curious as to the next layer of learning emerging from a batch of intensive lessons.

This July will be 13 years since I discovered the Taubman Approach, and buried a dark near-decade of injury. Back then, I would never have guessed that in 2016 I would be completely comfortable at the piano, playing pieces I would never have dreamed possible, and with the expertise to help others. I also would never have dreamed that I would be averaging around 50 lessons a year with Edna Golandsky and John Bloomfield.  For me, each lesson yields yet more pieces of an endlessly complex puzzle: sometimes connecting fragments of information, sometimes tiny insights, sometimes a series of jaw-dropping revelations. Even when my lesson is horribly early in the morning, the Australian dollar is horribly low, and I may not have done the preparation I planned, I’m always so glad I took that lesson. 

Over the last ten years, there have been countless changes to my experience of comfort and fluidity at the piano, and gradual dissolution of the barriers between the music I hear in my mind, and what I am able to produce. Yet recently, a more subtle development has occurred in my playing.

Around six months ago, I performed an all-French program including the Ravel trio for the first time, a dream piece for me, and one of the more difficult trios in the repertoire. As happens in the real world of too-busy professional musicians, we would have liked (and needed) quite a bit more rehearsal time. In the flurry of promoting and administering the event in addition to my other commitments, there literally wasn’t time for essentials such as running the piece from beginning to end together without stopping, let alone my habitual mental preparation and visualisations. Until this concert, I relied on significant mental preparation prior to a concert, in particular Don Greene’s wonderful book Performance Success, which I can’t recommend highly enough.

Normally, this frantic preparation for the Ravel would have created great anxiety and insecurity  for me, yet I was amazed that everything held in the performance.  Of course I didn’t suddenly turn into Horowitz, and the moments that needed more time were not magically solved. Yet I was able to play with the same level of security as I had in the practice room with a calm and clear mind, despite far from ideal rehearsal preparation. This was a huge shift for me. 

Since that time, this experience has become something I can cautiously begin to rely upon.  More and more, I feel that I can practice less, resulting in equal or even greater security, and know that the level reached in the practice room will transfer to the concert stage. I might spend a few minutes on mental preparation to gather my focus, but I am not dependent on that process in the same way I was before. I can trust that my practice yields the results I need, informed by those hours of carefully working through issues in lessons. In fact, I would say a lesson replaces countless hours of frustrating practice if the solutions are not immediately apparent.

I never know what will come out of my lessons in NYC, but it’s always surprising. I’ve learned to bring my pile of questions, then to be flexible in following the unexpected leads that emerge in this endlessly fascinating learning process. Who knows what we’ll find next.

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