Chopin Ballade Opus 23 No.1. What a monster of a piece. This is the piece that defeated me in my final recital at the Con. I got very close but it was just out of reach. For years I felt not quite good enough because of this ‘defeat’. But this morning, I played the Ballade through, slowly, carefully, and made it to the end. Bloody Hell. What a marathon. I thought back to my 21 year old self and felt like giving her a huge pat on the back for even attempting such a behemoth. Well done me, for giving it a red-hot go. Even the most experienced and technically skilled of pianists would admit that this piece is VERY difficult. Today I can see that my efforts were not a ‘failure’ – that the piece was just beyond my capabilities, but I had done my best.
I can remember the ridiculous amount of repetitive practise, over and over and over again, faster and faster to get it up to speed. And I remember the amazing elation of getting it almost right, the huge power of those chords, the gorgeous lyricism, the flying passages up and down the piano. It takes my breath away just thinking about it. And this morning, my body remembered that feeling – the elation was there, my fingers remembered more than I thought they would and could play more than I thought they could. To be inside the huge emotional span of this work is kind of amazing, exhilarating, terrifying, moving, poignant and profound.
Earlier this morning I sat with my 10 year daughter as she struggled, in tears, because she couldn’t get the ‘right’ sound out of her flute. “I don’t want to go to my flute lesson”, “I want to give up”, “I can’t get it right”. I can remember that feeling as well; the misery and frustration and feeling of inadequacy. And she’s worrying that her music teacher will think she hasn’t done enough practise, that her teacher will be cross, that she will be judged and found lacking. I know why she wants to just run away. My response to her, apart from lots of hugs and reassurance, was ‘No, you are not giving up. You have to learn how to get through the hard stuff. That’s what life is like.’ I have no parental ambitions for her to become a professional musician – in fact I think I would probably discourage it! But what I do know is that learning a musical instrument is an incredibly valuable life experience and it teaches us so much more than just how to play an instrument. Tenacity, perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, self-reliance, as well as all the other well-researched cognitive benefits. I explained to her, that if she stopped now, she would most definitely NOT feel better; what will make her feel better will be to work through her current technical ‘block’ and then know what she can achieve through hard work and determination and mental focus. And then, she can decide whether she wants to keep learning the flute or go back to learning the piano, which is where her musical journey (and mine) began.