There are moments when the sun shines, the house is silent, the piano beckons, and music blasts like breathing out of your eyes. This article is not about times like that. This is about practicing through days when the diagnosis only got worse, when the divorce papers arrived, when a loved one slides further and further into a physical or mental illness. In other words, when life is falling apart, this is about practising the piano.
It’s ironic that the times we most need the solace of music are often the times we find it the hardest to drag ourselves to the piano bench and play. The fight is not theoretical one. One pianist friend of mine is battling pancreatic cancer. Throughout my own life, when a close family member succumbs to many types of mental illness, the most severe of which is dementia, I watch helplessly. I know from experience that placing my hands on the keys is only the beginning of the battle; the bigger struggle is learning how to hang on to the lifeline of the notes in the middle of an emotional hurricane.
Recognize that things have changed, and set new targets
Big upheavals impacting life alter us. What may have seemed like a reasonable idea in the past might not be the best strategy when life is unpredictable. It’s time to ease up. If there is no energy to pursue some ambitious plans, put them on hold. Most of us don’t play our best when our attention and energy are drained. Relax. Let go. Instead of pushing towards a big goal, use practice time to nourish and sooth. Set a new objective-one that ‘s made with gentleness and flexibility. My friend who has cancer, for example, is hoping to play for a few tournaments this summer. Both situations are low-pressure. She performs a repertoire she loves and she knows very well. Goals give motivation straight away. They bring hope.Also if the intention is to play the piece for a friend, in what might seem like utter darkness, it is a glimmer of light.
Play music that speaks to you now
I just love to play tangos. I planned to record a fistful of these. And then one of my loved ones fell apart a few months ago. I soon learned that no matter how much I tried to discipline myself and stick with my beloved tangos, they didn’t speak to me any more. I play music now that pulls me out of the emotional storm and gently brings me back to myself. In this time, how do I know what parts are right for me? I walk away from the piano feeling rinsed with darkness and grounded in something bigger than myself when I’m done practising them (regardless of how badly the practice time went).
Get enough sleep and get enough exercise. Eat healthy, nourishing foods. However slow down whenever possible. Appreciate every little bit of progress while at the piano. Screw up (on the piano or throughout life)? Forgive yourself, and move forward. Anger and anger (again, at the piano or in life) hit a boiling point? Remember that, and let go of it. Tragedy typically causes people to respond by choosing one of two things: anger or sympathy. It ‘s up to us to choose compassion-particularly during the periods when we feel least compassionate.
It’s a profoundly personal journey to find a way through the impossible-one without a map or a guide. Some days are better than some other days. But time teaches me this: the piano makes all days infinitely richer-a “friend” who absorbs pain, chants with joy, and ultimately reconnects us with hope and with the center of our own.