Starting Over

My son flubbed another school band audition, even though he played well in the practice room just before. Nerves. Before bedtime, I told him the story of why I quit playing the piano:

The last time I performed on the piano was a lovely spring day in April 1988. Fifty or so music professors, music majors, and assorted music lovers gathered in the small, old chapel at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where I was a freshman majoring in English Literature and Communication Studies.

Having played piano since the age of five, I continued lessons in college to keep music in my life. I’d enjoyed a companionable relationship with my home piano teacher who watched me grow up under her tutelage. I didn’t jive with this music professor, however; I was Grieg and Chopin (romantics) and she was Bach (mathematics); I was pop and she was do re mi.

Since I played well enough for a non-major, she put me in the spring recital playing, you guessed it, a Bach piece. I worked through my initial disdain, eventually moved the music into my heart, and the afternoon of the recital I played it perfectly.

In the practice rooms. Not in recital.

The nerves of playing for a room of professionals and professionals-to-be broke me down. I lost my place and then my mind. My roommate, an organ major, ran my sheet music to me; she sat on the bench and held her finger to my place in the piece. I never regained my composure.

That was the end of that.

At the time I operated as a fully-entrenched perfectionist and I wouldn’t do something I couldn’t do perfectly. Clearly, my failure indicated that I should not be a musician (despite my years of devotion and joy), so I let it go. I poured myself into classes and friends and moved on. Occasionally I dabbled with a song or two, just for fun. Until enough time  passed and knowledge eroded that it wasn’t fun. I tried giving my younger son lessons until he decided he’d rather play on his own.

I let go of something I loved because I caved under pressure. It makes me sad.

Long ago my mom told me that she wouldn’t be surprised to someday find a grand piano in my home but no furniture, that art meant more to me than practicality. Accurate. We’ve hauled my upright piano up and down the state of California—from San Diego to Ventura and back, then to NorCal. All the while it has sat against a wall, collecting dust, beautiful…and sadly, unconsciously, a symbol of my failure.

My son plays it more than I do. He can’t read piano music; he plays by ear. For his sake, I’m glad we still have it. Last night, I shared my experience to encourage him to keep going. Not that his pursuit of music was ever in doubt, but I wanted him to know that I regret having given it up. That a botched audition or performance doesn’t define you. That he can be stronger in spirit than I was, and music will take him farther than it took me.

With the house all to myself today, maybe this recovering perfectionist will toodle around on the piano… And how interesting that I found this piece to bring me back to my love!

 

Cover photo credit: Image by PublicDomainArchive from Pixabay

Free to Fail

My younger son is a musician. He’s played trumpet for six years and picked up the tuba a year ago. As a high school sophomore, he registered for two music classes: Jazz and Symphonic Bands. Music is his happy place, the band room his safety zone.

His private instructor also works at the school; he asked to chat. Apparently, my kiddo did not do well on his jazz audition. But his instructor wanted me to know all the ways I could encourage him:

He did better on the harder of two pieces.
He persevered when he lost his place.
When he finished, the whole room broke out in applause rather than their normal toe tapping, understanding the struggle and the grit.
He did not have the worst audition in the group.
This was the hardest piece of music he will encounter all year,
and now auditions are over until next year.

No accident that I’ve been reading about creative risks and failure and how to go on when you feel discouraged.

Thing is, he knew the audition had been a mess, but he didn’t let it flatten him; he let it go. I reminded him that everyone will blow it from time to time, everyone fails, but that creates an opportunity for growth. And that artists may fail even more so because artists have to take risks, the nature of the creative game. I told him that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly so that you can get better. That everyone is a beginner, and even with experience, we face many, many, many beginnings (like, every new piece of music).

Yes, he agreed. Wise kid. How does he know all this when I’m still learning?

Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet about receiving a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday. She put the cover on her typewriter in a dramatic gesture to mark the end of her writing career; she walked circles around her writing room, sobbing, until she realized that already in her head she was writing a story about failure. She uncovered her typewriter and got back to work.

Failure requires a response of swift, gracious action. Instead of asking the pityingly poor question, “Why me?” we ask, “What next?” For my son, next meant more music, Symphonic Band, followed by geometry. He kept his head up and kept moving. For Madeleine, it was making the decision to keep pecking away at her typewriter. We do the next right thing, however small and seemingly insignificant.

The creative road can be scary, but we keep walking, step by step. We speak kindly to ourselves, not berating ourselves for failure but commending ourselves for the courage to risk. We may feel sore, like sore muscles after a hard workout, but we persist, assuring ourselves that as we keep at it those creative muscles will also grow stronger.

The next morning as I dropped my son off at the band room, I asked how he was feeling; I knew that morning’s class involved sight reading, not his strength. He said he felt fine, and he was. Having gotten through one difficult scene in the band room, he knew he could do it again. And this time, it was even easier. Next time will be easier still. He’s getting stronger.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Once a Musician…

I played piano from the time I was five years old until nerves exploded in my fingers and caused me to bomb my first college piano recital. I have only ever been able to play notes on the page, carefully studied and ingrained into muscle memory. Which gives me all the more appreciation for friends like Dan, who create their own music with fingers and love.

Create Challenge #22: Dan Rodowicz

Several months ago, upon recommendation of our Human Resources department, I attended a communication seminar (based on the Process Communication Model, if you are familiar with this). Doing a ‘deep dive’ with a group of strangers isn’t something with which I am exactly comfortable. Nearly everyone in my first small group predicted I would be an “Imaginer” since I told them that I am a musician. As you can see from my chart, nothing could be further from the truth.DRodowicz chart

What’s funny is that I don’t much think of myself as a musician anymore. I’ve been playing music since I was five, and survived undergraduate and graduate school in music. I have taught both privately and on the collegiate level, and performed and recorded with some amazing and well-known musicians. I compose and arrange music, though not as often these days. I even served as Interim Music Minister at my Bay Area church for a year. While I don’t consider myself a musician, I guess it is at the core of who I am—and who I will always be.

Frankly speaking, I was the typical kid—I hated practicing. Typically I sight read my piano lessons. Only rarely did I receive the wrath of Sister Rose Imelda’s ruler.

I found my passion for music in the fourth grade when my parents bought my first spinet organ. I’ll never forget the day it arrived—I started playing the minute I got home from school and, except for a short break to eat dinner, I played until bedtime. That was the first instrument I could play and “color outside the lines.” I didn’t have to play note-for-note any longer. I could even play a few chords different than what were on paper. I could experiment with different sounds, different rhythms, and different styles. I found musical freedom!music

I have incredible respect for classically trained musicians who practice hours on end to reproduce something composed by someone else. I just don’t find the joy or sense of accomplishment they do. For me, whether it’s playing some jazz with other musicians, writing a new song or arrangement or just noodling on the piano at home, I enjoy being able to explore new musical territory at every juncture.

While I love the spontaneous creativity of playing jazz, I feel the greatest sense of accomplishment when I complete writing a new song. They always start out as a tiny idea—or “motif”—and then need to be shaped and transformed into a finished product. Sometimes, what starts out to be a great idea ends up sputtering away. But it’s most rewarding when I bring that song, including the arrangement, to completion. Of course, it isn’t so bad when someone actually likes what I created!

And when I compose, I find it easiest when the inspiration comes from someone meaningful to me. Whether it was “Tiny Ballerina” inspired by my dancing little daughter, Chelsey, or the wedding music I wrote for my wife, Leann, and our family—those are the nearest and dearest to my heart and I think that it is evident in the finished product.

So, as I head off to my “real job,” I guess I have to accept the fact that I am, and always will be, a musician.

DRodowicz travelDan Rodowicz is married to Leann and they recently relocated from the Bay Area to Laguna Niguel, CA for his position as National Sales Manager for the Institutional Solutions Group at Yamaha. They have three adult children: Andrew, Kate and Chelsey. He loves to travel, play Words with Friends, study foreign languages, drink good wine with good friends, is an avid Green Bay Packer fan (even though he was born and raised in Philadelphia) and is most comfortable on his bicycle when not seated at a piano.

You can hear some of Dan’s recordings and arrangements, including from his time as organist for the Oakland A’s baseball team, here.