Recital: Introduction

Not since I was a little lad have I had to play a recital. I don't even remember doing one, to tell you the truth. I took guitar lessons at a young age, but gave them up. My recital then must have been pathetic. Me playing "Skip To My Lou" on one string while my parents' watched. Jimmy Hatton had to play piano in front of our whole elementary school one time. And once when I worked at a music store some of the teachers at our store gave a recital. That's it.

Here's my mental image of recitals: some jittery kid with his hair all combed perfect, dressed like a smaller version of his grandfather, plinking through Mary Had A Little Lamb or something while his teacher, a great bloated alligator of a woman, looks on, nervous that he'll miss a note, clutching a notepad and scribbling. Or a little girl in a velvet red dress and shiny patent leather shoes who gets up and plays Chopin perfectly, and she's only, like, 9. Her parents are so proud of themselves, never having let her leave the house. They smile smugly and clam clap when their little girl finishes with a final crashing chord. I'm hoping to replace that mental image of recitals with a new mental image: ME with arms outstretched in triumph, standing in a spotlight, with long stemmed roses flying toward me, waist high in a warm bubbling pool of rapturous applause. Yes, there I am, being bowed to, like a Roman hero coming back with the Gorgon's head in one hand. Only I intend to have Modest Moussourgsky's HEAD IN MY HAND, no mistake. Darrell Grant will bow to me. He'll say, "You know, Mike, that time I got really pissed at you at your jury. Can you ever forgive me? You were marvellous! Let's go get a beer!" It'll be brilliant. You should all come and throw roses at me.

The recital will be June 11th. I'm playing two of the Promenades from Modest Moussourgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, But Not For Me by Gershwin, Pent Up House and Minority with a jazz septet, and Break Into Song! with Parks & Recreation plus horns. Yay!

So far it's been a long winter of preparation. Back in April, after my horrible jury, I was eager to fix the mistakes I had been making (although I still wasn't angry about them) so I took a couple of extra piano lessons with some ladies in the community about whom I'd been told were excellent teachers. One of them, after hearing me plink and plunk through my pieces, advised me to start back at the very beginning, playing the pieces excrutiatingly slowly, without ever playing them at full speed for at least 3 weeks. She told me that on every single beat I should tell each of my fingers which note they were to play next, and not move my hands until I'd told each finger where to go. (Sounds a little pornographic, but it's true.) She told me that on every beat I should say aloud what chord I was playing, which note was the melody note, where had come from, and where I was going. So for 3 weeks I sat at the piano and said things like "my right hand is now going to play an F major chord. Pinky, you will play an A, ring finger, you will play an F, and thumb, you will play a C." Can you imagine?? During that therapudic 3 weeks, I also worked on things like playing just the melody alone, getting the dynamics and the phrasing, having my hands balanced when playing the chords, voicing the chords, etc. And it worked. When I played the pieces for my teacher at school, I didn't miss a note. However, other problems cropped up, such as my shoulders going up into my ears while playing, etc. I also developed the tendency to play really heavily, especially in certain parts of the first Promenade. So then I had another lesson with one of the ladies, and she advised me to pay attention to the way I was sitting. She told me to relax my body, keep my elbows at my side, sit at the right height, and keep my shoulders down. She gave me a lecture about all the levers in my arms, and about how to sit and hold my weight. Oy vey! Now, that's what I focus on when I play, my body, not the notes. So far I'm doing pretty well. I feel prepared, if overwhelmed. I mean, I'm not going to be Horowitz or anything, but the only thing I need to work on, aside from small details in particular spots in each piece, is to not be nervous when I perform. I need to be poised, calm, and still, with just enough nervous energy to make the performance exciting. (Normally, I would make a little self depricating quip here, but as part of my new "confidence" regiment I shall refrain. Confident people are so boring! They have no sense of humor!) Today I had my second to last piano lesson before the recital, and my piano teacher at school gave me tips on the solo sections. He said I should play the solo sections with more conviction, because I was softening up when I reached those sections so I could make sure not to make any mistakes. He said if I make a mistake, I should make it loud. Hmm. And so we come full circle. All that grumbling about mistakes six months ago, only to then get me prepared to play them louder? And I'm paying these people??

BUT why split hairs at this point? Only two more weeks and I'm going to throw all of my jazz recordings out the goddamned window. I swear to God, if another person says the word "Bird" to me after June 17th in reference to anything other than the tiny feathery chirpy creatures that I intend to listen to while snoozing in the grass this summer, I'm going to do something really unpleasant. The same goes for the word "Train". After June 17th, unless you are talking about the large iron things that make lonely whines in the distance on dark, quiet summer nights, please do not utter that word in my presence.

Anyway more later.