I played piano as a girl and always regretted giving it up. Lately the thought that I may never play again, never again experience the pure pleasure of music playing out through my finger tips onto the keys–to lose that forever– seemed too sad to bear. So I bought myself an electronic piano, something I could set out on my dining room table to play.
Nothing so romantic as a baby grand–but it has the touch and feel of the real thing. I can close my eyes and listen and imagine that heavy-breathing instrument bowing beneath my body as I play it.
The music I want to play is the kind that sweeps you away–Chopin, Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven . . . . What I yearn for, and seem to remember, is the kind of playing where body and music meld, where the notes sway through my body and spill out on the keyboard, like some lover I’m caressing. A musical love-making.
Of course, it’s a fantasy. I never played so well as a child, and I can’t imagine that the clumsy relearning I’m now experiencing will ever evolve into that. And yet I seem to “remember” something like this happening as a child when I played, perhaps at some rare moment when it all came together immensely well.
How my fingers, my whole body, knew where to go without thinking, without reading the notes. How it was almost as if the music was playing me, and I’m as much its instrument as is the piano. Or even more, as if we were playing each other–the score, my body, the piano–all playing together in unison, to create this “thing” we’ve become.
I don’t know if concert pianists feel this way about their music-making, if this is a memory of how it can be, or just some intense pleasure-making I’ve imagined when listening to some music that moves me, when I feel it flowing through me as if I were part of it, or it part of me.
And so I’m learning to play again, in this very painful, clumsy, halting way that all beginners experience, even those who once played before. Yet it’s still a thrill, touching fingers to keys, hearing the sound it makes vibrate through me. I know I may never play so well in reality as I play in my mind/memory/imagination, but then I don’t have to. I already have it. That experience. I’m already “it.”
This patient, clumsy practice is just the homage I pay to what could be, and to the tremendous hard work needed to reach that point of perfection. Playing well is a rigorous undertaking. And the outcome of all that practice is not guaranteed.
But this thing I’ve heard and experienced when listening to the music of those who have reached this pinnacle, makes me want to at least attempt to master some measure of that kind of music-making. I want to practice enough to feel at some point the table turn, and my fingers become the mute instrument of the music at play.
Do you play a musical instrument? Does it play you?