Lately, I have lost the will to play the piano seriously. This waning of interest in the instrument and its literature which I adore, and would normally consider to be the centre of my life (apart from my family), happened gradually over several weeks and coincided with the recurrence of a shoulder injury, which had plagued me most of last year, in addition to learning that my husband urgently needed a fairly major medical procedure. Normally when stressed I turn to music to provide a distraction, and pleasure, but my attention was too closely focused on my husband’s health and I couldn’t concentrate on practising seriously, nor gain any kind of enjoyment from it (and usually I love practising). It pains me to admit I have hardly touched the piano for the past two months.
Returning to playing seriously after an absence can be tough. Lack of regular practise means fingers and limbs may be less than responsive, sluggish or uncomfortable, and prone to injury. In this case, one should not do too much nor too quickly, and should always be alert to physical signals from the body. Never play through pain and take frequent breaks when practising. Stimulating the mind to focus on playing can be harder still. If the mind is weary from stress or anxiety, it is not necessarily receptive to the concentration, and imagination, required to practise or study music, and telling oneself “I really should be practising!” can set up unhelpful feelings of guilt which can create further lack of motivation or discouragement.
I’ve tried to practise, truly I have. I dug out some Haydn from my bookshelf because I find his music, even in a minor key, to be endlessly uplifting, witty and refreshing. I lost myself in some Philip Glass, but only for about 15 minutes, and managed to play Schumann’s love letter to Clara, the Romance in F sharp, several times without errors, while trying to concentrate on creating a beautiful cantabile sound. But none of it was very satisfying or enjoyable…..
Then my piano teaching colleague, friend and fellow blogger Andrew Eales published this post and provided me with the impulse I needed to get me playing regularly again. In the article Andrew advocates developing an ‘Active Repertoire’ of, say, three pieces which we can play well, ideally from memory (for those moments when we encounter a street piano begging to be played), and reminds us of the importance of “play” and “pleasure” in our music making.
Play these three pieces for pleasure, and daily if possible. Allow them to become embedded in your memory and in your heart.
It’s very easy to regard practising as “work” – often “hard work” – and to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we choose to play our instrument – for enjoyment, for “play” (and even professional musicians will cite this as the reason why they took up their chosen instrument). When I read Andrew’s article, I realised I had been berating myself not only for not “working” (practising seriously) but also for not “playing” for pleasure. So while I am still finding a way back into serious practising of advanced repertoire, I will work on my Active Repertoire and ensure I gain pleasure from doing so.
Coming out a day after my husband was discharged from hospital, Andrew’s post seemed particularly supportive and inspiring. The last few weeks have passed in a fog of daily hospital visits, anxiety and not enough sleep. Music and the piano took a back seat during this time, but now I can feel the will to play, the tug of the instrument, returning afresh – thanks to a friend’s inspiring words.
Sometimes, often, the will to play is stirred by an external force – a concert or recording, a stimulating article, conversations with friends or colleagues – but ultimately the inspiration must come from within oneself.