The Reward: Great Performances and… a Carnival

Weapon of torture? Or childhood friend?

Keys on a piano: 88

Piano recitals I performed in as a kid: 9

Butterflies in my stomach before I performed: 598; and when my children perform: 27

1. Performance Anxiety. As I used to ride in the backseat to piano recitals, wearing an uncomfortable dress and the now-antiquated nylons, I had a sort of death-march mentality. It is not understating things to say that I hated piano recitals.

I didn’t mind playing the piano. Practicing got a little old from time to time, like when I would cry and throw myself on the floor and my mom would say, “Yes,  you still have to practice,” and I would beg and offer up my first-born child that I would have 15 years in the future, and she would turn her back in a cold refusal to bargain with terroristic pre-teens.

But I really, really, hated piano recitals. I hated the neat rows of seats so that you could count down to your turn at the bench. I hated the nylons that slid down my legs as I walked. I hated the way my stomach threatened to secede from the rest of my internal organs.

2. Carnival Musical. Yesterday was my kids’ piano recital.

It was like a carnival. There were balloons, a bassist, a percussionist, keyboardist, gifts for the performers, video cameras and clapping just for getting up and walking to the piano. Their teacher has a beautifully accented English, and he says, “Yes, yes,” as they play; a constantly upbeat Antonio Banderas type. It almost made me want to perform there. Almost.

We switched piano teachers last summer because their old teacher had all the qualities I was trying to avoid: an anxious attitude, strict dress code and negative reinforcement, long months of build-up to the recital with the same piece of music and a buckle-down-and-get-to-work mentality.

Yesterday, we were treated to students who played with the other instrumentalists, students who forgot notes, students who used the music, the teacher assisting the newest students with hand placement and a special jazz performance by the teacher and his band.

What a nice change!

3. Music Therapy. My piano teacher from about age 11 to 18 looked like Snow White. She served as Chief Musical Advisor and Therapist.

In a one-on-one relationship, kids can thrive if the adults in their lives seem to notice they exist. Every week, I would go in, and we would talk. I would play Beethoven or Grieg or Mozart or Bach, we would discuss what I could do better and tips for practicing, and then we would talk some more. I did learn to play, but I also had another adult in my life who loved music and cared what happened to me. Priceless.

4. Practical practice. Music is fun. Music should be fun.

Practicing is not always fun. Note to parents out there: kids don’t want to practice. I didn’t, and I didn’t even have a cell phone or Nintendo DS or Netflix or lacrosse games or ashram yoga competing for my attention.

Heck, the big competition for my time was a tape recorder where I could make up silly commercials with my friends and books that spooked me like when a girl twin astrally projected out of her body, and then her twin who was in a coma was able to steal her body and walk around and fool everyone.

But still.

Luckily, I have a mom who was really good at being tough. Coincidentally, she became a piano teacher just like my grandmother had been. Practicing was non-negotiable.

Today, I can play more than Chopsticks.

When my kids try to bargain with me about practice, I put on my tough face. When I put on my tough face, I go all Tiger Mother on them and astrally project the Nice Mommy part away. This is because when they offer to give me their first-born children in return for not practicing, I won’t be tempted.

But I might take a picture of them lying on the floor crying and carrying on with my handy-dandy iPhone. I’ve heard the movies will be great to show to my grandkids someday.

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10 thoughts on “The Reward: Great Performances and… a Carnival

  1. crubin says:

    I experienced many hours of piano practicing and many recitals. But I was weird, because I loved to practice. And then sadly, as a teenager, I decided I had outgrown the piano. Too bad, because I really loved it, and now my playing is more pathetic than pretty.

    Did you read that book by the “Tiger Mom”? I did and then proceeded to tell my kids how lucky they were…

    • annewoodman says:

      Wow. You’re awesome. I can understand enjoying practicing now, but as a kid, I saw too many other opportunities for fun away from the piano. I didn’t read Tiger Mom, but I saw all the hubub and comments about it. It was obviously very polarizing.

  2. Melissa says:

    I must have been a weird child as well. I enjoyed practicing. I had two great teachers and I think that had something to do with it. I wasn’t crazy about recitals, but those aren’t nearly as bad as competition – Once a year and you talk about nerves. Ugh! Sometimes I think they made me go to competition so that recitals were a walk in the park…such brilliant psychology! Don’t feel bad “Tiger Mom,” I’m just a mean old lady 😉

  3. Jay Helms says:

    Great stuff, Anne. I like how you embrace that music is fun (needs to be) while being tough and insisting that the kids stick with it when it’s not fun. That is a potent combination for parenting, coaching, a lot of things.
    I have to admit, I am considering capturing a video clip or two to put into the vault for use as needed along the way.

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    I’m afraid I enjoyed the practicing, too. Twelve recitals for me. They were nerve-wracking, but not as bad as the band competitions. Someday, maybe, my husband and I will be settled into one place long enough for me to consider getting a piano again….

    • annewoodman says:

      I got my grandmother’s piano and was very lucky. It’s followed me to three apartments and two houses so far!

      I actually was more nervous at piano recitals than orchestra competitions or violin recitals. I’m not sure why.

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