Fin recently decided to dive into aquariums and has been some awesome things with our tanks. We now have four active running aquariums, with varying degrees of decor. For a while, we’d both been just coming home and watching TV. But, seeing her interest in taking up a hobby, I’ve decided to get reinvolved in another long running hobby of mine: the piano.
I’ve “played at” the piano for roughly 20 years now, and after 2 decades of playing, you’d think I would have achieved some mystical level of awesomeness. While the knowledge of piano has been floating around my brain for 20 years, I’ve only actively played for roughly 9 or 10 years. And of those, I received formal training for roughly 2 or 3 years. Playing actively for multiple years, then taking a multi-year hiatus results in going back in time abit and having to relearn.
In my high school days, I developed a list of pieces I wanted to be able to play, and started trying to knock them off one by one. I hit a rather massive brick wall on Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor. I played it for a few months, but it always sounded forced, strained, and mistake filled in playing.
This was only the 3rd piece in my list… My tastes have changed a bit, though I still really like a lot of Rachmaninoff in general. Were I to take on one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes now, I’d probably go after G Sharp Minor Op. 32 No. 12. That said, I’m putting more advanced pieces on “pause” for the time being.
I believe every pianist has 3 levels of playing – “polished”, “sortof”, and “delusional”. A child walks up to the piano, starts tinkering, and may develop a delusional playing level of Horowitz or Mozart. Then, a teacher gets a hold of them and either starts pushing their actual playing level up (letting them decide where they’re at), or crushes the delusion making them quit altogether. At first, the “polished” and “sortof” levels stay very close, but some pupils go out and venture into other more advanced works they want to play, perhaps before they have the skill or technique to do it. More advanced pieces can move up “polished”, but in my experience only moved up “sortof”.
So right now, I can “sortof” play various pieces from Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. But, pieces I can polish and play convincingly (make it sound like it should and add my own feeling to) are on the same level of a 2nd or 3rd year piano student. And some of my “foundations” are more remedial than that. When I started “playing at” the piano again, I decided that I wanted to venture out into other types of playing – Jazz, Blues, Standards. Quickly, I discovered that my high level of “sortof” couldn’t overcome my very low “polished” level. And then, I realized that I had deluded myself into believing I was better than I was (at least in terms of technique). So, I went on Craig’s list in search of a piano teacher, found one, took lessons for a couple months, then crashed and burned, deciding to just “noodle” and not worry about learning for real.
Then, a few weeks ago, something clicked in my head on some of the advice the piano teacher had given me. Sadly, while she was a good player, I don’t think she was the best at teaching, being relatively new (I doubt she was giving intermediate-advanced lessons for more than a couple years, if that). So now, I’m playing again and advancing at a steady pace. Every now and then I take one of the “sortof” pieces of the shelf and discover that I can no longer play a section or can mystically play a section better. The sections I can no longer play, generally tend to be those that never sounded “right” in the first place, and looking at it again, I can move it back up into the “sortof” category but a bit more polished.
In a personal effort to keep my advancement going, I’ve decided to try to write here about it. Hoping that the effort will keep my thinking about and playing more. We’ll see how it works.