Have I mentioned I have anxiety? I think I may have mentioned it once, or twice, or... a million times! haha!
About 4 weeks ago I went to my private piano lesson with my college instructor. After I do my warm-up scales she says, "Oh, I think I forgot to tell you that you will need to play a piece in front of a piano jury."
I'm all, "What? A JURY? What the heck's a JURY?"
She tells me that the jury consists of the head of the music department and the piano instructors. "Basically, it's a panel," she explains. Well, why don't they just call it a PANEL then, right? Seriously.
So, she tells me I can just perform the Sonatina I've been working on, and that the Jury is right before the recital. And just to be clear, I wasn't thrilled about having to perform in a recital either. But I knew the drill. I knew it was expected.
My instructor is awesome actually. Not only is she a rock star on the piano, she is also hilari-oso and approximately my age. So, going to see her for my weekly lessons was a lot like going to chill with a friend. We laugh-- a lot. Mostly, she'd laughed at me and my idiosyncrasies. But, it's all good. I'm a big girl, I can laugh at myself too.
So, throughout that week I worked a little harder on the Sonatina in addition to my recital piece, since now I learned I'd have to play them both. I go to my lesson three weeks ago and she says, "I think we are going to put you in the advanced recital group." I freaked. No way did I want to play in the advanced recital. My stomach churned. I asked if I could just play in the intermediate group. In my mind I was envisioning the advanced group to contain all of these virtuoso child prodigies. Li'l Beethovens or Tchaikovskys or something. But she assured me it would be fine.
Then three weeks ago she tells me, "Oh -- did I tell you you'd have to play scales for the jury too? How are your scales? Oh and your Sonatina needs to be memorized."
Well, I can play my scales, but I prefer to play them in the order of what's known as the "Circle of Fifths". Because I can just add 1 sharp each time and avoid the whole panic moment of "E Major? Crap! How many accidentals is that?!?!" But, the instructor says, "Well, they will just announce which ones they want you to play." Then I look at her and then ask, "Memorized? I don't really memorize. I mean, is there an app for that or something?" I rolled my eyes and let out a heavy sigh. The instructor laughs. Then she tells me to go ahead and run through my scales first.
Then, two weeks ago I gave my instructor a sneak-preview to How Emma Has A Meltdown. Normally I am not nervous during my lesson, but there were two guys in the room. They both had headphones on, plugged into electronic keyboards practicing. But how could I be so sure they were REALLY plugged in and that they weren't instead LISTENING to me!?!? I made several mistakes. My palms were sweaty and my breaths shallow. I finally stopped and said, "Sorry. Those guys are making me nervous." At that, the instructor got up and walked over to the 2 guys and tapped them on the shoulders. I thought how nice it was of her to ask them to leave. But -- that isn't what she did. Nope, she asked them if they wouldn't mind pulling up a chair right next to my piano so I could practice in front of an audience! Yes -- she did!
My mouth dropped. I let out a nervous chuckle. My instructor laughed and said to the guys, "This one? Yeah -- she's all about the drama." Ha! Can you believe that? I soooo started laughing. If I didn't love her I'd have been furious. But we became good enough friends that it was okay coming from her. Problem was, while I started the Sonatina in front of them all I could think of were things like, "What are these guys thinking? I wonder if they are better than me. They are probably better than me and are irritated that they have to use their practice time to sit and listen to me while I have an anxiety attack at the piano." And of course, I'd mess up and mutter something. The instructor called out, "Ah! No talking. If you stop or talk you have to start over." Well, needless to say I had to start over 3 times. After that experience she says to me, "Um. I am just going to tell the panel that I forgot to tell you to have your piece memorized. Bring your music and instead of working on memorization, work on the musicality. I just don't want you to freak out if you lose your place."
So -- one week ago, give or take a few days -- was THE day. I had the Piano Jury @ 3pm but my recital wasn't until 6pm. While other students were going ahead of me for their juries, I paced outside in the hallway wishing I had a chance to practice on that specific piano beforehand. See, the jury and recital were not at the school. They were held in a performance room at a local piano store. And pianos are all different from each other. Some keys are sensitive while others are hard to play. So, practicing on the one you'll actually be performing on is always a good idea.
I think I said about a million prayers that day. I even took a half day off of work just so I could breathe a little easier. About 20 minutes before my "jury duty" I took about 1/4 Xanax. I knew a whole one would put me to sleep and I didn't know if a 1/2 one would make me too groggy to play. So, I took a 1/4. Then I said about a million more prayers.
It was my turn and I walked into the room and my instructor introduces me to the jury members and I ask, "Ok, what do you want me to do first?" She replies with, "Well, how far did we get on your scales?" I said, "Um, I think we got through all of the sharps." She then turns to the panel and says, "I totally forgot to tell her until the last minute she'd have to do scales." Then she looks at me and says, "Why don't you go ahead and play your piece first." So I announced I'd be playing the 3rd movement to Clementi's Sonatina, Opus 36, Number 5. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it might leap through my chest. I sat down, took a deep breath and looked at the music. I tried to "hear" the first few measures in my head and then I went for it. At first I was a little nervous, but once I started playing, I realized it sounded really, really good. This was an awesome piano! At the end they told me it was flawless and great and the head of the department said that I "executed nice clean, crisp finger runs." I smiled and I said "I think this is a magical piano." Then they said that was all and dismissed me. They didn't even ask me to play scales. I could hear through the door that the students both before and after me had to play scales. How did I get off so easy?
Whew, one down. One to go. It wasn't worth it driving home and back in between as I lived about 30 minutes away and I didn't want to risk it with rush hour traffic. By 4pm I realized I was starving and was so nervous I had forgotten to eat lunch. I knew that if I didn't eat something I'd feel like passing out before the 6pm recital. I drove down the street and when I spotted the Cheesecake Factory, I figured I'd go and get a little sumthin-sumthin. After all, no kids! w00t! I sat at the bar and ordered my diet cherry coke, with real maraschino cherries and cherry grenadine flavoring. Yumm-O! I stared blankly at the golf tournament on the Flat Screen at the bar. I eat a little something and then start thinking about the recital. I think the bartender brought me a total of 6 Diet Cherry Cokes! I took another 1/4 Xanax because I could feel my nerves beginning to pulsate again. I think I said about another million prayers or so.
I make it back in time to sit through and listen to the 5 pm recital. I noticed that everyone seemed nervous and not one person played without a mistake. This did make me feel better. finally it was 6pm. I looked at the program. I was #5. The 4 before me all made a tiny mistake here or there. This also made me feel much better. It was my turn.
I walked up to the piano and pulled out the 6 pages I had taped together and spread them across the music rack. Then I took a deep breath and looked at the first few measures to get it in my head and -- ooops. It was upside down. I turned it over, producing laughter from the audience -- just a little tension reliever I suppose. I took another deep breath and began.
I swear -- that piano really is magical. My piece was an awesome piece full of varying dynamics and tempos, but this piano really helped to bring those things out. My heart stopped pounding after about the 3rd measure and I was able to just get lost in the piece. It was like I completely forgot about the audience. I mean, I knew they were there, but it was like they were just a dream or something. They didn't seem real enough to me at that moment.
Prior to that moment, I had never played that particular piece without at least one mistake. I should mention that since that moment I haven't either. But IN that moment, I nailed it. I played it better than I had ever played it before. It was miraculous, I swear. At the end, I couldn't help but look right over at my instructor. She was grinning from ear to ear and looked as if she might just cry. Which of course then made me feel like crying. I could tell she was excited for me and was proud of me. And truth be told I was excited for me too. I went back and took my seat and no one after me, save it one other student, performed their piece without a mistake.
When it was all over my instructor rushed over to me and hugged me and told me that was awesome. I told her it was that magical piano. She then said, "Well, it better be a good piano. It costs $100,000!" Whoa, right?
I don't know if I will ever perform a piece mistake-free again. But I will say this, a little Xanax, lots of prayer and a hundred-thousand dollar piano goes a long way!