Monday, October 18, 2010

Cruel and Unusual: A Tribute to the Piano Recital

Perhaps I am feeling a bit high on power at the moment.  Due to the much deserved vacation of my follower and coworker, Mary, I had to run the circus today at work.  It was thankfully a smooth day, and I can sincerely only hope that the rest of the week continues in this manner.  I really do miss the entertaining sound effects that Mary brings to the job.  Hm.

In keeping with my wave of powerfulness, I am going to write a blog entry.  My week is off to a good start - no car accidents so far!  Due to the fact that I have a group presentation looming on Wednesday, I do not have weekly readings for one of my classes, so I've got that going for me as well!

Rather than write more about my school work in its various boring incarnations, I am going to write about something that was inspired by my former boss today at work.  To give you a brief background, I know how to play the piano.  I have played since childhood and still play (for fun) nowadays.  My ex-boss is aware of this fact.  He has a 10 year-old daughter who also plays piano.  This means that he likes to share her progress and problems with me as he feels I will be sympathetic.  Who knows, maybe I do help give some perspective, but responding to parental point-of-view can sometimes be tricky.

The point of this background story is to say that it made me think back on my own music performance issues, particularly the bane of my youthful experiences, the RECITAL.  Even now, my stomach turns and I start to get sweaty palms.  Is this weird?  Was I unusual in my reactions?  Probably not.  While there certainly are people in this world who genuinely like to be the center of attention and to perform publicly (look at American Idol), most people would rather eat boxelder bugs.

I was first introduced to the phenomenon known as the recital at the end of my first year of parent-enforced piano lessons.  Honestly, I didn't know what to expect at first, and once I was finally sitting in front of the whole group to play my song (the classic piece, "Auntie Gravity") I had my first out-of-body experience.

I remember nothing.  I don't remember playing anything, but I think that I did.  What I do remember is that my other song was a duet with my mother, another well known piece, "Fishy Fishy In the Brook."  Thankfully I have never seen a video of the actual recital, but my parents do have a home video of the more intimate family version complete with vocal accompaniment by my then infant brother, Matthew.

In the years that followed, I was forced to continue this torture.  Once we moved to Willmar, the process got even worse.  On top of my piano teacher's recitals, I now had to participate in judged activities that had the potential to lead to more recitals.  This seemed like a pretty perverse prize to me, which is probably why I was a bit hesitant to get on board with the idea.

Unfortunately, one year I managed to perform well at two levels of judged competition and was "awarded" the "honor" of playing in a big concert performance at the University of Minnesota.  Everyone was pretty excited, so I was careful not to let anyone know that I was secretly terrified out of my mind.  Sure, I would be performing with a group and no one would really know what (or if) I was really playing.  But still.

Again, the whole major concert experience was a bit of a blur to me.  My only consolation was that it was a very long and probably boring concert, and my piano-lesson endorsing parents had to sit through it all.

After middle school and junior high, I actually started to enjoy playing the piano and started to do it for more recreational purposes.  I accompanied different groups, I played for nursing homes, I even played Christmas songs at Target one year.  I truly discovered my niche as a supplier of background noise - I was live elevator music.

Unfortunately, most of my piano teachers were not on board with my new mission to blend into the background.  They still attempted to push me into the world of recitals.  Through sheer obstinacy and force of will, I managed to extricate myself from the judged competition scene by my sophomore or junior year of high school.  I did run into a bit of a road block in the form of my 10th grade instructor who was rather insistent that I participate in an end-of-the-year recital with my peers.

I tried everything I could think of short of simply not practicing at all.  I purposely did not memorize any music in the belief that he would never allow me to perform with the book in front of me.  Sadly, he called my bluff and allowed it.  I am pretty sure I really frustrated him, and in the end I did have to perform, but I did so under extreme protest.  Fortunately, this instructor moved away after that year to take a job in the Cities, so I was never to face that battle again.  I am almost completely positive that teaching me had nothing to do with his decision to move.

In hindsight, I probably should have thrown in the piano lesson towel then and there.  For some reason (probably my mother's wishes) I kept going.  Happily, my new teacher for junior and senior year was much nicer and considerate of my lack of desire to perform and be praised.  I was therefore not forced into some mockery of a senior recital and did not have to learn the multiple memorized pieces to go along with it.  Instead, I got to play one major song (with music) at my senior voice recital.  Don't even get me started on those, they were pure insane painful icky torture as well.  However, in the end, I think I got off easy.

To bring this all back to present, I often find that the physical reaction I get when facing school presentations to be similar to the trauma I experienced in connection with piano recitals.  To all you people out there that think forcing your kids to perform, whether it be sports, music, speech, theater or whatever, don't fool yourselves.  You aren't teaching your kids to have confidence.  You aren't helping them build communication skills.  You are only creating long-reaching emotional scars that will haunt your children into adulthood.  If you need proof, just look at me.

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