Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The discipline of practice

I hate practicing. From the time my four-year-old feet first swung from the piano bench, I hated sitting still and figuring out sounds from notes someone else wrote. I didn't mind playing around with my own music. The piano stood in my room. My dolls were on top of the big old-fashioned piano cabinet, so I stood on the keys to reach them. I could make music anytime I wanted. And some days I wanted to play (or walk on the keys) a lot. I just didn't want to practice.

I've played for a lot of groups, choirs, and orchestras since my brother (7) and I (5) first played a Christmas duet on violin and piano. I accompanied a singer in church when I was 9, transposing by ear around the key right for his voice... The music was in Eb, a pretty safe shape for small hands. He went down in pitch with me following, and came up and around again... and ended up in B major (5 sharps).

Groan, the key of Bb or C was not a problem, but Erhard wanted B and only that one. "That's it. Perfect."

"Sure she can do it," said my dad. The guy was over for Sunday lunch, singing his solo in church that evening. We were kinda casual back then about rehearsals. I suppose if I hadn't showed up, he would have sung the song as written, handing over a hymn book to the regular pianist.

We went through the song a few times so he could get used to me and I could memorize where the one chord was that I had never played before. I reminded myself, "OK, when you get there, hit F#, Bb, C#, E." Must have been an F#7 chord. It was traumatic enough that I still remember the keys I learned.

"Try anything once," became my motto. "If it doesn't kill you, it was at least interesting." I've jumped off cliffs into deep Harrison Lake, swum across Cultus Lake just to see if I'd get tired (no, I'm a floater), and eaten unspeakable things which tasted pretty good. I can't remember regretting anything we've tried over the years.

It's the discipline of sticking with something, the hashing it through until it becomes a reflex, the tedium of repetition that puts my mind to sleep.

My studio is slowly evolving into my art room and study after being a crafter's haven, sewing room, storage room, and everything between. It's hard to imagine years of practice ahead to be a good painter. But I love the feeling of brush, water, paint, paper, imagination, and subject. Maybe this skill is worth the discipline.

I can always run downstairs and plunk out my frustrations on the piano as the paint dries. I've put my time in for that already.

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