December 2010

Alaskan Hallelujah Chorus

December 25, 2010 01:07

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Miracles

December 21, 2010 23:24

As successful as my recital in Soldotna was, I had my doubts about recreating it in Tulsa with my Aunt Susie. I sent her the music a month in advance and wrote a note explaining that she could play it through and let me know what parts of it she thought she could tackle. Aunt Susie is a gifted pianist, but busy. The weeks went by, and I never heard from her, nor did I make an effort to check back with her. The only action I took as the Tulsa date approached was to call my parents to try to cancel. Unfortunately, they'd already booked the church and begun telling everyone about it, and my granny had invited five friends. So, I talked myself into believing maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all, and maybe my aunt had been practicing after all, and well, perhaps Christmas miracles happen after all...

Wednesday night, just four days before the recital, I met with Aunt Susie in Tulsa for our first run-through. It didn't take more than a couple of measures before it became clear to me that the Brahms and Beethoven were never going to happen. She was certain she could pull it together in three days, but after the months of work Maria and I had logged, I knew better.

How did I ever get myself into this situation? And how could I get out of it? I'd already sent out the facebook invitations. Plus, I didn't want to make my aunt feel bad; I should never have asked so much from her in the first place. I'd just been too attached to this fantasy I had of sharing the fruits of my effort with people in the Lower 48 who couldn't make the Alaska recital.

The truth of the matter is, you just can't recreate special moments. I spend the vast majority of my life trying to relive what I think were the good times. Maybe I don't literally dawn my letterman jacket or hit the monkey bars, but too often, I find myself dwelling on those times in my life when everything seemed to be lined up just the way I wanted them, and I was happy. (It's interesting how the passage of time allows the heart to pick and choose what it wants to remember. Mine softens it all with a pink gauze and discards most of the dark pointy things that hurt--no one wants to keep those, anyway.)

Since I couldn't get out of the recital, I did the next best thing and whipped out a book of Christmas songs I'd brought along for those just-in-case moments. "How about we make this a Christmas recital instead?" It was a distant, disappointing consolation to my original plan, but maybe it would be better than nothing. Swallowing my pride and trying not feel too embarrassed at the thought of an entire program of cheesy Christmas tunes, I sight-read the book with Susan and set up a second rehearsal to work out the details.

Saturday night the two of us--she with her eye glasses and I with my pencil--set to make good on our procrastinated inspirations. Cinnamon and molasses wafted through the air: Mamma's in the kitchen baking cookies and mulling cider for recital refreshments. My little nephews crowded into the space behind me to play with baby Jesus and the manger scene on the end table. Slightly stressed and pressed, Aunt Susie and I played Silent Night for the umpteenth time. Suddenly, my heart stirred:

Emily, stop and look at this chaotic moment, the one in the here-and-now, and you will see that this is the memory, the one you will actually look back and smile upon, though now you hash out bowings and fingerings with furrowed brow. Ten years from now, you won't remember a single dark pointy mark from your pencil, but you will remember that smell of mom's fresh baking and the sound of carols being played, and most of all Family, and it will all be pink and gauzy.

Sunday, as I warmed up at the church where I grew up, people began to darken the door of the sanctuary. My granny was there, as well as my cousins, aunts, uncles, friends from elementary school, and friends from college who I hadn't seen in over a decade. The audience continued to trickle in, bringing with them glad tidings and happy memories.

Sunday, I took the stage, not to impress with skill and genius composition, but to give a new happy memory back to the ones I love.

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Recital Day

December 5, 2010 18:41

Three hours to go.  My fingers tingled a bit as I warmed up on the treadmill, and I trained my focus onto my breathing and heart rate.  I kept the workout short, but intense, so as to burn off some of the adrenaline coursing through my veins.   After I cooled down and hit the shower, I sipped some post-workout drink, ate a banana and a pb and molasses sandwich for good luck, and rounded up my stuff for the church.

All along, I'd been shaking off thoughts of bow spasms and finger lock-ups, trying to keep a positive outlook and making sure to take deep breaths.  I'd been trembling and sick with nerves all morning.  But then a peculiar thing happened.  I walked into the sanctuary to put my music on the stand and paused to envision my audience in the empty pews.  Suddenly, I knew everything was going to be just fine. 

6:55 pm, December 3rd: I was wearing my red dress, my fingers were warm, dry, and limber, my pulse even and calm.  The last few minutes ticked away as I warmed up in the sunday school room while the audience trickled in.  Sixty, eighty, over a hundred people took their seats for the show.  And then it was time. 

After over a year since its conception and hundreds of hours of preparation, I'd made it to Recital Day, and I couldn't wait to finally share my music.  Maria Allison and I walked in and received our applause with a gracious bow.  The positive thoughts and prayers flooding the room overwhelmed me.  I felt euphoric. 

Thus, we began Beethoven's Spring.

I'm not saying it was perfect--of course it wasn't: I'm not perfect.  But I was fully in the moment, well rehearsed, and completely confident.  The minor flaws, instead of sandbagging my focus, became inconsequential in the big scope of things.  Senses sharpened, my ears guided supple fingers to their places, my throat moving the melody lines as though they were being sung.  I felt almost telepathic with Maria during the Brahms. 

Something else happened which is difficult to describe, and has never happened during a performance before. As I played the Brahms, it was as if some sort of sixth sense alerted me to a specific audience member--someone watching who was connected personally to this piece. Encouraged by the common ground, I communicated to that person in full understanding. Though the G Major Sonata plumbs the depths of the emotional spectrum, I managed to express it without trembling--right up until those last two double stops, which proved difficult to execute over the lump in my throat.

By the time we made it to the Sarasate, I was so relieved to be finishing so well, I played almost fearlessly.  My nemesis, the false harmonics, still got the best of me, but I recovered the second half of them in time to launch into the arpeggios. 

My only regret of the evening was that I didn't prepare an encore.  After three trips back to the front and an armful of roses, it felt awkward to offer them nothing but my heartfelt thanks.  (I'll take note next time to make time to prepare one.)

After the show, I met a woman who'd been advertising my concert on the local classical radio program, as well as a reporter for the local newspaper, who interviewed me for an article.  So many people!  My students were there.  My coffee shop friends were there.  Many unfamiliar faces were introducing themselves now.  It felt odd to be so suddenly thrust into the limelight after so many months of reclusive behavior; I'd avoided all social activities in pursuit of practice time.  I greeted and thanked them all a bit awkwardly, but sincerely nevertheless.  My upstairs neighbors invited me to tea.  With the recital over, perhaps I'll enter back into the social world, get back to a somewhat normal life again.  ...Whatever that is.

And then, a stranger approached through the crowd and introduced himself.  "I'm a doctor here in Soldotna, but I played the violin through college.  The Brahms G Major Sonata was the last piece I learned before putting it aside for med school."  He'd seen my posters around town and came, eager to hear it played once more.  (This performance marks the first ever of the Brahms G Major in its entirety in Soldotna.) 

He said it was a pleasure to meet me--although, I don't know if he was aware that I'd already connected with him earlier that evening.  We chatted briefly, and then he was gone.

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