[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]
Piano lessons have begun again, after thirteen years of none. “How much time a day were you thinking of giving it?” asks the new teacher.
“An hour?” I venture. “At least for starters? That’s about how long my back will hold out.”
I pause, not mentioning daily blogging. She waits.
“When I’m further along, perhaps more.” That’s apparently acceptable. She nods.
So practicing begins again too. Some of what was lost returns, slowly — including all the bad habits. The dropped wrists, thanks to a series of low piano benches. The downward-from-the-knuckle fingers, thanks to fatherly Mr. Fisherman, who came to the house between 1938 and 1940. (“Shoot, Ninochka, shoot!”) The impatience. (More scales?) The despair. (My Bach doesn’t sound like Andras Schiff’s!) Not to mention inabilities — also rooted in the distant past – to sight-read, to memorize.
I’ve had the current piano bench since 1978. Yamaha must have thought it the right height for someone. Not for me, it seems. I sit on one cushion, then two, while Bill photographs the relationship between my elbow and the keyboard. (They should be level, or elbow slightly higher, to keep wrists aligned with fingers.) Then I order a 14” x 30” tie-on corded pad built up to a height of three inches — cheaper than buying a new adjustable bench. (Will this undo a near-lifetime of muscle strain?)
I devote five daily minutes, as instructed, to raising and then dropping my now level forearms from the elbow, one at a time — striking the keys with the pads of my second and third fingers, alternately. (Will this eventually seep into my unconscious and replace the Fisherman tip-of-finger approach to piano playing?)
I sight-read from a children’s book: four-bar simple songs. Only three tries for each – and no stopping to correct wrong notes, no looking at my hands. I’m not good at it. I tense up, like a little girl taking a test.
Then comes the daily Bach – an easy C major one. Hands apart, then together, no pedal, go slow, don’t hold notes over rests, don’t get mad about stupid mistakes.
Why am I doing this to myself? Not really to channel Socrates.* As Browning said: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” I read “man” as “person.” A person like me.