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.


Music in My Head: Motivator or Sensory Overload?

The soundtrack of our lives.

Tracks on my running mp3 player: 47

Bands slated to play at our half-marathon this coming weekend: 7

Months ago that I realized Flo-Rida sampled Etta James on “Good Feeling”: 2

So. It’s official. I’m now one of those old people who complain about music being too loud.

When my husband and I were dating, we occasionally went to super-swanky places like “Outback” or “Macaroni Grill”… big, open places with loud music and TVs and people talking like it was two a.m. at a dance club. When they said the wait time was an hour, we weren’t bothered. No problem. We could stand and talk and drink and look around for as long as we needed to. We even (I don’t recommend this) secretly laughed at people, usually older than we were, who couldn’t handle the wait, complained about the loud music and ate at home.

We are now these people.

When my son was born, I decided that I wanted him to grow up knowing the classics. More specifically, The Beatles. There he was at 2 months old, flapping his arms on our bed and squealing to “Hard Day’s Night.” There I was, bouncing him on my hip to “Here Comes the Sun.” While I cooked dinner, my husband would circle the downstairs carrying the little crying bundle to “Eleanor Rigby.” (Turns out, it’s not a real upper of a song; who knew?)

And there we were on our anniversary, at a nice, quiet little Italian restaurant with divine vegetable lasagna… listening to “Hard Day’s Night.” And “Here Comes the Sun.” And even, yes, “Eleanor Rigby.” When the maitre d’ stopped by to ask us how our meal was going, we just looked at each other.

“What? Is something wrong?” the maitre d’ asked, searching our plates for signs of huge roaches or undercooked eggplant or gnats in our wine.

“It’s… the music,” my husband said.

“You don’t like The Beatles?” the maitre d’ asked.

“No, no, we actually love them, but… we’ve been indoctrinating our baby into rock culture 24-7. On our night out, we were kind of hoping for something less… baby friendly.”

“Ohhhh kaaaaayyyy,” the maitre d’ said, turning towards a server and probably rolling his eyes. “Eighty-six The Beatles.”

We then ate our Italian comfort food to the strains of Ravel or Chopin or maybe even Count Basie. I don’t remember.

One time, several years ago, Urban Outfitters opened at a mall near us. I took my precious little preschooler right up to the door, walked in… looked at one t-shirt and walked out. The music was so loud and bass-driven that would you believe it? She still can’t hear me when I ask her to come set the table. She’s 9 years old now. See? Permanent hearing loss.

Sometimes, the music at a store makes me buy stuff. My husband doesn’t believe me about this, but it’s true. When I browse at Nordstrom Rack, trance music plays, usually a female who repeats a lot of stuff over and over to a sort of mystical, dance music beat. Sometimes even, it sounds like she’s singing things like, “Those shooooooes are soooo cute, those shooooooes are soooo cute, buy them buy them buy them…” Sort of a love song to shoes and cute dresses. This is a problem.

An opposite problem is when the music is fine, but a weird, repetitive sound forces me to leave the store before I lose my grip on sanity. (Come to think of it, my husband may have had a hand in this one.) A Target opened nearby a few months ago, and the store had a bum emergency door. Every time I visited to browse the sale tank tops and Natori for Target robes, the emergency door made this never-ending “behbehbehbehbehbehbeh” sound. It is very sad that I only managed to swipe (and pay for) a few of those choice items. Honey, you’re welcome.

My point is, music can wield powers of both good and evil.

I rock an old-school mp3 player, akin to the late ’80s-era cell phone that came in a box the size of a briefcase. I hook that baby onto my left arm, and it causes me to run in a Quasimodo-like fashion.

I really love the 47 tracks that I initially downloaded about seven years ago. I’ve added to them (Mystify by INXS) and deleted some that didn’t work so well (some X-rated rapper thing that my husband put on there without realizing it. It made me blush everytime I ran. I was afraid young children and puppies might hear the harsh language and be scarred for life.)

Here are some of the songs that still work for me when I run:

  • Anything by Black Eyed Peas
  • Anything by Justin Timberlake
  • Just Dance–Lady Gaga
  • Stronger–Kanye West
  • Been Caught Stealing–Jane’s Addiction
  • Opportunities–Pet Shop Boys
  • Hot in Here–Nelly
  • I See You Baby…–Groove Armada
  • I Wanna Be Sedated–The Ramones
  • Like to Get to Know You Well–Howard Jones
  • D’yer Mak’er–Led Zeppelin
  • Dyslexic Heart–Paul Westerberg

Which songs motivate you when you exercise? Which new songs do you want to add?