That's music

The recital was an incredible experience. We had wine and snacks to eat. Jenny had hung a long, dark, burgundy velvet curtain up behind the piano, and little red clusters of Christmas lights bespeckled the trim around her living room. Her modest sized black baby grand looked like it was positively tickling to be touched. I was really impressed with all of the perfomances. Two girls played a violin duet, another girl played an incredible piece on viola in which she used a mute across the strings, creating a really soft, haunting sound. Jenny accompanied a violin player in a crazy duet that sounded like a maudlin, vaudeville shanty. She has a really good tone on the piano. The music she was reading from was crumbling; the piece looked as ancient as it sounded. It was nice, manic, and light. Comical. Jenny also played three little pieces by Shostakovich. Before playing, we each told everyone a little bit about the pieces and their composers, which was really great, because I learned a lot. It turned out Lisa, the viola player, had found her music recently, while abroad (she's also in Jenny's band), and had never heard of the composer before. The story of how she came upon the music and what she discovered about it was really entertaining.

When I got up to talk about Aaron Copland, I felt at first like I didn't have any business being there. But the moment I started to speak, I felt as though there wasn't any reason to separate myself from the proceedings this time. In fact, for only the second or third time since I've lived in Portland, I felt like I belonged here. Everyone was there to hear classical music as it should be performed: in a living room, among friends, with laughter and levity. Concert halls be damned. AND hipsters be damned. There wasn't a sheepish, limp, cloying, slimy hipster among them. But enough of that. I told everyone why I liked Aaron Copland so much, and sat down to play (after some clumsy adjusting of the bench, during which I was practically mooning my modest audience). How amazing it felt. I mean, I wouldn't say I played perfectly, far from it. Oh, I didn't play any wrong notes, but there were times when I came down on a chord and the balance wasn't quite right, lower notes sounded louder than melody notes, or I didn't get deep enough into the key or something and so the chord sounded a bit weak. Sometimes my shoulders would go up and I didn't use the weight of my arms. But these weren't life threatening mistakes, like last year at my recital. I remember feeling so much pressure then, like if I missed a note I wouldn't graduate or something. This time, there were no huge stakes, just me learning a beautiful piece and playing it for people. And there were lots of things I did well. I captured the sound of the piece. When it was supposed to sound simple and tender, I honestly thought it did. I thought I got a good variety of moods out of the piece, which I liked. And I wasn't thinking the entire time I was playing. In fact, I woke up and it was done. That's the mark of a good performance. I came away from the piano feeling like a pianist. Not a Van Cliburn, mind you, but a pianist as I define it: a person who devotes some chunk of his or her life to the endless persuit of playing the piano.

When I was in community college, you see, I started out picking at the piano and absolutely struggling. What do I do with all of these notes? What do my fingers do? I used to think to myself, when I get older, I want to be a music reading, piano playing person (among other things). Well, I came away from Sunday's recital feeling like just that. I accomplished Sunday night what I set out to accomplish all those years ago. Again, I'm not saying I'm Glenn Gould or anything, I'm just saying I can play piano. Isn't that enough? Who the fuck needs to be Glenn Gould in order to be happy?

What's more, back to last year, I came away from my recital feeling such relief that I didn't want to touch a piano afterward. But Sunday, afterward, I felt addicted to the piano. I couldn't wait to get home and start something new. Now, I've practiced pretty much every day this week. I feel affirmed. I feel like the things that came to light during that performance were delicious little occurences that I get to fix. It's such a pleasure to fix one's mistakes, or revise one's work. It gives us a chance to sit down and, well, get to work. Isn't that what life it about? Doing good work? Not necessarily work that will earn us fame and money, although, if it does we would hardly cast those things aside (some of us would), but work that requires real effort and that improves us and the people around us. That's good work.

That's music.