by Director of Music & Arts Laura Weiss.
I am 7 years old and I can hear my mother in the kitchen. She is chopping vegetables for, no doubt, one of her delicious soups and I can smell the aroma waft into the living room. The smell is the only thing that brings me into the present. Otherwise, I am swept away into the delicious and grueling world of dedicated practice. I am inside of the music at the piano. Then the inevitable happens as it does most days: I hit a wrong note. “Woah! That’s wrong!” she says, continuing her chopping.
I felt enormous pressure to perform well when I was little. I would work until my arms ached, my heart rate quickened and my eyes blurred.
Yet, despite my mother’s firm belief that her feedback would one day be credited as the primary source of my success, my drive was self-induced. As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be the best at things. Without any encouragement, I thrived on creating systems and strategies to attain success. This applied to anything I tried: math, dance, diving, music.
Try two measures of music, Laura. Mistake. Try one measure. Same mistake. Slow down. New mistake. Good grief. Sit. Reflect. Analyze the rhythms and count out loud. Play it again. Mistake. It isn’t the rhythm! I know the rhythm. Feel the finger pattern like a shape. Visualize the shape and trust your fingers. OK, better! Now try two measures. Mistake.
Yup, you went too far.
Play one measure slowly with the finger pattern. Feel it. Yes. Repeat three times. Now put it back inside of the phrase. And so on. Every day. For years. Even today.
This morning, I talked to a friend who made an ambitious list of New Year’s resolutions, and I thought about my own: Be aware. Be mindful of your body and what it wants. Rest when you need to. Then I heard my mother’s voice in my head: “Practice makes perfect!”
Maybe this voice was on to something. Why has it been so easy to apply this method to concrete things like schoolwork and sports and music lessons but not in areas like New Year’s resolutions, diets, life goals, relationships? Isn’t talking myself out of eating a slice of cake just another pattern like a difficult measure of music? Isn’t making a statement about how I will be similar to playing a piece and expecting to just get it without the work? What if I only focus on the perfect part of my mom’s cliché when it comes to things that elude me? Instead of deciding to wake up on Jan. 2 and be fully aware, seek justice, speak kindly and join revolutions, what if I just practiced it? What might that look like?
Practice in music means breaking down your patterns to their smallest and playing those passages over and over until you not only understand them, you can express them and make them a fluid sonorous symphony comprised of your voice and the brilliant composition itself. What if we did that with life? What if we looked at our patterns and broke them down into smaller fragments? What if we trusted that we would reach our goals with practice just like when we learn a new skill? We know that the lengthier process is worth it then, don’t we? What if we made our goals so specific that we could analyze them from different perspectives, sit with them, find the challenges within them and make the finite movements that we are actually capable of grasping? Wouldn’t practice inevitably help?
Feel the pattern take shape, then repeat. Repeat. Repeat. One measure, then two. Thanks mom. I guess you get the credit this time.