Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Memories in G Minor
I was in the shower yesterday morning, listening to one of our local NPR radio stations, and the resounding introductory chords of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor crashed through the tinny speakers of my boombox.
That was my concerto. The one I played in college during my solo recitals and competitions. The version I heard yesterday was played at breakneck speed, with much bravura, by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
I was an aspiring concert pianist. I practiced up to four hours a day, napping underneath the baby grand in my practice room in between classes. Then I realized that talented young classical musicians were a dime a dozen. We may win competitions and dazzle the hometown crowd, but the mob of musicians clamoring to get into Juilliard and the Eastman School of Music is truly staggering.
My piano teacher, who taught me from 6 to almost 22 years old, wrote me a kind letter recently and sent a DVD she'd burned of one of my last solo recitals - the one in which the ball supporting one of the piano legs fell with a clatter on stage. The crowd tittered, but I played on, oblivious.
I remember being so nervous before competition that my fingers became ice-cold - anathema to a musician. So I habitually brought a small coffeemaker backstage. Minutes before I was to perform, I'd heat water in the coffeepot, dip a small towel inside the scalding water, wring it out gently, then wrap my cold hands inside the cloth.
After a few minutes, my fingers would be flushed red from the heat, but limber enough for me to confidently tackle the concerto.
Talk about a different life. Back then, the keyboard my fingers flew over had 88 black and white keys, not the beige plastic-encased ones of a computer keyboard. I haven't touched a piano since I was 22 - burned out on the relentless cycle of practice, performance and yet more practice.
But now my fingers wish they could make music again, not just words.