No Van Cliburn

Sunday was the recital, and let's face it, I'm no Van Cliburn. I have no illusions about that. I got by on Sunday with the little Moussourgsky pieces I played. I didn't play them perfectly. There were some boofs, but the energy in the room was really abuzz, and I felt focused and really good while I was playing. In fact I did really really well, and I'm quite proud. I wish I could tell you exactly what I was thinking while I was onstage, or what I was thinking beforehand, but to be honest I can't even remember doing it. When I listen to the rocordings, I can picture what I was looking at during certain moments in the pieces, I can see my hands playing, I can smell the faint smell of roses (I had a bouquet on top of the piano with roses to give out). I suppose I could give you a blow by blow.

On Sunday morning I woke up, puttered around, went to buy cat litter and some food for Lily, and then came home and went to Zell's for a delicious undercooked breakfast. There, the fluttering in the stomach began. (No, not because of the omlet). I told myself to breathe, and to keep the nervous feelings focused in my belly. I told myself to not let the jiggles rise any higher than my ribcage. So every time I felt a nervous spasm, I just breathed into it, and let it do its thing, but not allow it to make my hands or arms shake. Anyway, then I went to school and sat and sat playing through difficult parts very slowly, drinking water, lying on the ground, talking to myself, etc. etc. By the time it came time to set up, I was feeling pretty calm. The musicians all arrived, we set up, and then we ran through the pieces. I didn't do much solo practice because things were hectic, and I didn't want to overdo the playing before the recital. So there it was. My mother and cousins and Liz straggled in way early and were snapping pictures, which was cute. There was this one moment, too, where this guy I don't know wearing a suit named Marcus came bounding into the room saying his wife's recital was to start at
6PM (my recital started at 5:30), and that there was a scheduling conflict with the room! They were supposed to have the room at 5Pm to set up! Well, so I shooed everyone from the room and let them set up their stuff behind us, but that whole episode added to my anxiety a bit. It turned out, by the way, that Marcus and his wife had made a mistake. They had the room from 6 until 8. We had the room from 4 to 6. So they shouldn't have scheduled their recital directly at 6 if they wanted to have the room to practice or something. Anytway, I didn't tell him that because he was a nice guy, and we were all anxious enough as it was.

Suddenly I was backstage, feeling all trembly, trying to stop the flutterings from entering my arms and hands, but they went where they wanted. I couldn't stop them. So I went with it and just tried to relax. I did stretchy things, breathe-y things, and then Kyle lowered the lights and I came out onto the stage. From here I only remember snippets. My legs went all a-jelly when I caught from the corner of my eye the bald brown pate of Darrell Grant way up in the back row. But I smiled, said a few words of thanks, and sat down at the piano. Here, time stretched out and bent on its own whim. I remember sitting there on the bench, checking that my body was okay. I remember placing my finger on the first note of the Moussourgsky (a G), and I remember a slight panicky tremble in my body when I messed up the last couple of chords in the first few bars. Then I remember just feeling kind of asleep. I was in control, but not. I was listening as though I was in the audience, but my fingers were moving. It's so hard to describe. Once in a while, not often, I would phase out, no, blank out, and my fingers would hit a wrong chord, and it would be like I was waking up, and I'd move on as though I handn't messed up at all.

Then I stood up from the piano, bowed, and brought out the other musicians. I handed them each a rose, and even handed Darrell and Charlie Gray, my teacher Brian Ward, my Mom, and Liz a rose, and then we all played the jazz songs. These went really well. I felt really good. By this time my nerves were gone and I didn't have a care in the world. I was really having fun, looking around at my friends playing with me: all these really good musicians who are going to be famous one day. Playing with me!! Can you believe it?

Then I brought the band on and we did a super fast rendition of Break Into Song with horns and everything. Anthony had brought a couple of timpani out of the school equipment locker, so you should have seen our stage set up. Me on a big black grand piano, Anthony with a laptop and two timpani! My friend Kyle played guitar, having learned the lines from the record, and everyone had a great time playing that song.

So then it was over. That's it. The Big Goddamn Recital. One half hour and almost a year of preparation. I suppose I should be sad (or angry) that in the end I missed a couple of notes. Especially after two extra lessons and nine months of practicing every day. But you know, I'm not. I did everything I could to iron out the boofs, and they cropped up anyway. Imperfection is part of life. There were times in the practice room when I would play through the pieces without goofing up even once. Those are the moments that I live for. Who wouldn't mess up in front of his teachers, his peers, his mom, all staring at his first ever classical/ jazz concert with all that pressure? Not Van Cliburn. But then, as I said earlier: I'm no Van Cliburn. But I'm the best Michael Johnson I can be.

Hey, since most of you missed it, (for shame) here are some mp3s from the recital. The recording guy cut off the first couple of notes of the Promenade II, which is a drag, so I included a link to a rehearsal recording I did of the piece. Keep in mind, these pieces are not played perfectly. So try not to get angry. Happy listening!

Promenade I/ Over The Rainbow
Promenade II/ But Not For Me
Pent Up House
Break Into Song

Promenade II (rehearsal take)