Laura was quite tired from lack of sleep due to a challenging event in her family. But she showed up at last week’s live online workshop anyway, ready to work on a difficult section of Chopin’s F minor Ballade. As she played, I wrote down the following words:
Free the shoulder
Spring on bass notes
Arms feel tired
Let self breathe
It all amounted to the fact that she wasn’t enjoying using her body at the piano.
And the second one on the list, “don’t look,“ was the key: I knew that if she didn’t rely on her eyes to get around the keyboard in these difficult passages, she would immediately connect much better to her body and free up her coordination.
As soon as she started again without looking at her hands, she played with much more assurance and conviction. There was a direct line from her heart and mind to her hands and arms. Her sound was vivid and beautiful. It was a joy to watch and hear her. And within a couple minutes her entire mood lifted and she looked radiant and happy. She had clearly made the right choice to play that day even though she was so tired.
Laura has been working with me in these workshops ever since she attended the 2018 summer program. The repertoire she played in that program was not nearly as virtuosic as the Chopin ballade. And until very recently, she had continued to work on the same repertoire from that summer. Although she had improved dramatically over time, I didn’t know what to expect when she dove back into the ballade after not playing it for many years.
But because she had done so much groundwork with me in using her body well at the piano, as well as with listening and rhythmic grouping and mindfulness practices, she had become a different pianist. This last step, playing without looking at her hands, revealed how far she had really come. I told her that day, “You’ve got chops!”
It’s amazing when someone like Laura, who has primarily focused on teaching for a long time, begins to show her face as a true pianist and performer. I so appreciate her consistent work in spite of her demanding schedule, and her motivation to get to the gold in herself.
It reminds me a little of the story of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady: Inside of the woman who hadn’t come into her power and shown her true colors to the world was a magnificent person.
This is why I teach. People are usually capable of much more than they realize.
Thank you, Laura, and Brava! More power to you.
And for all of you who are reading this and are still longing to open up and discover the treasure within you, I encourage you to believe these wise words from my meditation teacher: “You can do it, sweetheart.”
Here’s to more expressiveness in your performances!