Thursday, November 14, 2019

Practice Makes You...Prepared For Mistakes.

I've been working on my own piano arrangement of "O Holy Night" since last spring—which simply means I'm inventing my own version of it. There are plenty of great renditions of the song, but I want something that's my own.  

If you're not musical, it's kind of like having your mom bake your favorite birthday cake from scratch. It has a special quality about it. I'm VERY excited (and almost ready) to share my arrangement with the Portraits of White audience. I've added a special ingredient into the mix, but I can't give that away—it's a surprise.

There are so many things about a song that need to be "practiced"; soft, loud, speed, structure, get the idea. That's in addition to deciding the overall "feel" of the piece within each section of the song. Like you, I've probably heard this a thousand times: "Practice Makes Perfect." 

I disagree.

In my opinion, you can practice the wrong thing over and over. I DO think practice can help you prepare for imperfection. But I can only speak for myself.

For instance, in spite of all my hours and hours of practice, things can go awry. 
  • fingers slip off the keys 
  • feet slide off the pedals
  • hands get caught under the lip of a piano key
  • the mic stand (if I'm singing) swings around and hits me in the mouth (yep—that's really happened)
  • my nose begins to run

Anyone have a handkerchief?
Portraits of White 2018
After years of practicing so I could be "perfect" and learning that it just isn't possible, my focus has changed from getting everything "right" to learning how to respond when things go wrong. And THAT has changed so much for me as a performer. 

If you only knew how hard I work to make sure nothing goes wrong... Is there some kind of reward for THAT? Probably not, but I can tell you this, I have had more fun performing in the past decade than any other time in my life because of shifting my focus from perfection to peace, poise...and humor. Just have fun with it!

So last year, when I had a chance to go up on stage with The Piano Guys and play the piano with them at one of their concerts, I actually thought I might be able to do it. Not because I'd be perfect, but because I knew that if I wasn't perfect, we could create a moment out of it.

Here's how it went...

A cellist and I went to see this phenomenal duo. I was a curious to see if a pianist and cellist could keep my attention for two hours. They exceeded my expectations. 

During their concert, they asked if there were any piano players in the audience. They wanted a pianist from the audience to come up on stage and play a song with them and specified that you had to be a jazz pianist who had played in a jazz band. I'm not a jazz pianist and I've never played in a jazz band so I didn't raise my hand. Neither did anyone else. 

I was sitting there with my legs and feet shaking, thinking to myself—MAN...I WANT to go up there and take this opportunity but I'm not a jazz pianist and I've never played in a jazz band, though I can play by ear and improvise. I  feel like jazz is a whole different world and they were making it clear that you needed to have experience in that world.

As if she knew what I was thinking, my cellist friend leaned over and said, "YOU could do that!!" She's been on stage with me since the beginning of Portraits of White and knows I'm not a jazz pianist, but I was honored that she believed in me. That's all I needed...a word of affirmation. I decided that if no one stepped up, I would. 

At the prospect of "making something up on the fly" with The Piano Guys, I now felt like my whole body was an earthquake. But I was determined to take a chance and I quickly decided it would be worth the experience just to play with them. I was willing to make a fool of myself (if that happened) because I've learned that these kinds of moments are usually the ones people remember the most, even if I wish it weren't so.

As I was processing all this (in milliseconds), a young man raised his hand and was called to the stage. He was a jazz pianist for sure and he almost stole the show.

They were having a blast on stage and I was having an epiphany in my seat. I realized that though it does take hours of practice to develop proficiency at anything, (so yes, you MUST put in the practice time), the sooner you begin to practice being okay with imperfection, the sooner you will experience (and radiate) absolute delight, even when things don't go "perfectly".

I left that concert feeling so grateful for all the years of "mishaps" on the stage. They've led me to a place where I was willing to jump up on stage and do something fun, even if I failed. 

The inner work to reach this freedom takes as much practice as the outer work of playing the piano.

Yep....I say practice makes you....prepared for mistakes.

P.S. If you've never heard of The Piano Guys, visit their website and watch their videos or better yet, support live music, buy a ticket and go see them.