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  • suzanne@keynotes

Just playing through the panic

Updated: Apr 2

The news is desperate. It feels like this could be the end of everything. America is in meltdown: 160k infections. Italy’s calvario continues – 101,000 infections, 11,000 deaths. As I write, Australia has ‘only’ 4,361 infections and 18 deaths. But how can we not think this is coming for us, even here on our large and laid-back island?

Daily life is already transformed. We stay home. We can only go out alone or in pairs. I jog around a deserted Lake Burley Griffin. I catch up with friends through email and Skype. I take an anxious call from my 88-year-old mother, asking whether I think she should self-isolate now or wait a few more days. I teach my piano students on Zoom. The sound quality isn’t great, but there’s a thread of normality in being able to see one another. We all agree: best to have a focus, set a goal, create a routine.

After working at home all day, in the evenings my husband plays bridge online (https://www.bridgebase.com is saving the sanity of bridge addicts around the globe). And I play the piano. In the evenings, I don’t practise, I play. The practice part – the technical exercises, the countless repetitions of sections in new pieces that I’m struggling with, the over-and-over again playing of a piece to try to polish it up – that part I do in the mornings, at my digital piano, headphones on. No-one wants to hear all that backstage work. But in the evenings, I move to the acoustic piano and just play.

I play whatever I feel like playing. I usually start with the new pieces I’ve been working on that morning. But then I simply rifle through my stacks of music books and display folders and choose whatever takes my fancy. As I finish each piece, I move straight on to another, perhaps in the same folder or perhaps a piece triggered by the thought ‘Oh, I haven’t played such-and-such in a while!’ I jump from the restrained tranquillity of Ludovico Einaudi’s Le Onde to Dietmar Steinhauer’s syncopated arrangement of Killing Me Softly. From the surprising harmonies of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Rosemary’s Waltz to Nikki Iles’s arrangement of Last Rose of Summer. From Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine to Yiruma’s Chaconne. By the end of my session, the music room floor is littered with books and folders. But I feel refreshed, relieved, grateful. ‘There is still this,’ I tell myself. For the moment at least, the virus hasn’t taken this from me.

When I’m ‘just playing’, I follow only one rule: play each piece from start to finish. I don’t stop to fix mistakes. I plough on. I fumble, yes, of course. I mess up the fingering. I hit the wrong chords. Sometimes (blush) I forget the key signature! Or have to take a wild stab at the ledger lines (by 9pm, they’re all a blur!). But whatever happens, I keep the tempo. I simply recover and keep going. I get through. I suspend critical self-commentary and just do the best I can. I believe – hope – this is good preparation for dealing with an uncertain future. We just have to keep going and get through it. Just play!

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