When I was six (or so), my piano teacher was Sue Vasquez, then living in Amherst, New York, in a little house on a corner a little ways from where my family lived. Sue had cats, or at least one cat, and one day as I played during my lesson, one of her cats, or her one cat, jumped onto the piano bench and walked back and forth behind me, rubbing against my back. I kept playing as though nothing were happening. She praised me for my concentration when I'd finished the piece. (I wonder whether it was at about this time that I filled in my first grade teacher's little "About Me" questionnaire, filling in the blank after "What I'd most like is" with "more concentration.") (I know that it was about this time that I read my Scholastic Books biography of Marie Curie and fell in love with the story of her siblings' stacking chairs behind her, one by one by one, while she read in complete unawareness of their presence--only to knock down a mad pile of every dining room chair when she pushed back from the table later on. If only I could be so focused, I thought. If only I could shut the world out that way.) (I suppose that one could consider that a time when I should have been careful about what I was wishing for.)
I keep thinking about concentration while I'm practicing, because it's been surprisingly difficult to adjust my mind so that non-musical matters quiet down for awhile. Today, after a string of good practices, I suddenly went all fumble-fingered, hitting notes that have no place in my sonata at all. There's never, ever been a B-flat in this sonata. Not ever. So why did my ring finger persist in hitting it during that scale? The fingering in that one passage? It's been fine all along. Why is it falling apart now?
I realized that I was eating myself alive, magnifying each mistake by being frustrated, and I was about to play one last time and then call it a night when two members of my college walked into the room where I was playing because they needed to set up an event I was planning to skip. An audience wasn't really what I needed at the tail end of this particular practice, but I made it through, took some ribbing about my plans not to stay for the whiskey tasting (I know, I know, I said: all the cool kids will be here), and headed for home.
My impatience knows no bounds, but I have a plan: tomorrow, in addition to doing my four-octave scales, I will warm up by putting everything else in my brain to sleep for a little while--everything that doesn't have anything specifically and directly to do with my fingers and those keys and that music passing through me: it all goes to rest for awhile. I know that part of today's problem was that I rushed into it as a refuge from a silly meeting through which I'd just sat for fully 90 minutes--when in fact I wasn't needed there for more than about two. It was a good reminder of what an unspeakable blessing this year's time, normally unpocked by such things, is.
When I reached the gates into King's early this afternoon, I met up with fully 100 schoolchildren and walked over the bridge and into the college right along with them, listening to their conversation. One ten-year-old explained to another how and why it is that one attends university. Two others exclaimed, "Duckies!"
A woman stood under the massive arch of the Porter's Lodge, waiting for this small horde of small people, holding a sign that read, "Meet the Orchestra This Way!" Tempting though it was, I headed to the music store instead, while they filed up an alleyway toward the theatre.
Have you read Mrs. Dalloway? You should. Swim in it like a silver fish. Don't be intimidated. Follow along from one mind to the next. It is a thing of enormous, flashing beauty.