Letting Go of Perfectionism

Letting Go

“Red Balloons”

Well, it took me a while to get around to reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Sure I’d heard about the morning pages and I knew about the artist’s date, what did I need to read the book for? Well I got the book from the library yesterday and, as I usually do with non-fiction, I opened the book to a random page and started reading. Here’s what I found. It happened to be a bit about perfectionism.

To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write a perfect script, paint a perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue.

Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough — that we should try again.

No. We should not.

It took a lot of will power this morning not to do “just one more” recording of this Scarlatti Sonata. But I had plans for the day and decided that it was “good enough.” My goal was to finally learn this piece, since I’ve loved it for years. It’s not difficult by any means, but I’m never totally satisfied with the opening ornaments. (I have a similar “fear” of the opening of the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata  Op 2 No 3 in C major.) But there it is. I did it. It’s the best it is right now. And I’m putting it out there. I’m letting it go.

(And by the way, I’m so happy I finally picked up this book. It showed up at the right time….)

Juggling the Repertoire

As I approach the halfway mark in my Go Play Project, I realize that it was inevitable that I’d improve my time management skills. After all, the pieces I’m recording are either brand new repertoire, pieces I may have only looked at once or twice, or pieces I’ve learned before but haven’t touched in years. I’m usually not thinking more than one or two weeks ahead as I plan out upcoming recordings but I do have a few tips for anyone who’s thinking of working on their own version of the Go Play Project.

I knew from the beginning that there would be weeks when I wouldn’t be able to put the time into practice that I wanted to. For example, this past weekend we took a much needed mini-vacation to the Jersey shore and got back home Sunday night. I pulled out an old stand-by, Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat Op 9 no 2, a piece that I’ve performed many times, turned on my ZoomH2 and ended up posting the first recording of the evening. I have a few other short pieces up my sleeve for emergencies and I’m sure I’ll be using them before the end of the year.

I also have several new short (but more difficult) pieces that I try to practice every day (more Brahms and Rachmaninoff) with the goal of recording them later in the summer. I try to spend time each day only on the most technically challenging sections whittling down my practice time to the bare essentials. Sometimes I find it’s only one finger crossing, or one awkward leap, that needs consistent practice to smooth out an entire section.

Then there are the larger works that I’m bringing back such as Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse and Chopin’s Fantasy in f minor.These are pieces are still on the back burner, but they are in the stack on the piano along with a few other “bucket list” pieces and I try  to get to at least once a week even if it’s just for a “walk-through.”

Juggling my practice between several different pieces simultaneously, each at their own level of completion, along with the weekly goal of “putting it out there” keeps me motivated and energized. This is not the way I worked in the past, but it works for me now since I’ve become a teacher/mom/blogger/and master multi-tasker!

So you’re practicing?

originally posted by: ingeniousx on tumblr

Over the past few months I’ve noticed that when I mention to people that I started practicing piano again I get a variety of reactions. Most look at me like I just told them I took up a new hobby like quilt making or needlepoint. One suggested that it must be “relaxing” for me. My students usually give me a sidelong glance as if they’re wondering why I’d bother practicing piano at my age.

Luckily, most have no idea of all the musical “baggage” that accumulated over the years- the self-doubt, the performance nerves and the deterioration of technique from not practicing. There were the nagging thoughts that maybe I should be improvising and composing rather than playing music of dead composers. There were the times when making music was drudgery – hours of playing background music for a women’s bridge tournament and Christmas gigs with endless repetitions of I’ll Be Home For Christmas. There were horrible accompanying jobs (the orchestral reduction for the Jolivet bassoon concerto). And even while teaching the old saying “those who can’t play teach” would sometimes start running around in the back of my head.

These days I’m feeling very fortunate. I have the best group of students ever and I’m making the time to play the music I really want to play (such as this week’s Rachmaninoff’s Etude Tableau Op 33 No 8 in g minor). Of course, some things have changed around here. The TV hasn’t been on since the Superbowl. The beds go unmade most days and the laundry piles up. Meals are take-out or super-easy to prepare. The piano is priority. Each week (now at week #20) I become more determined to see this year through.

Oh yes, and speaking of other people’s reactions to this whole piano practice lifestyle…once in a while I get a wonderful response.

Last night my Twitter friend, Rhea Borja (@RheaB) messaged me that she was inspired by the Go Play Project to record Schumann-Liszt’s “Widmung.” Here’s her first take! Have a listen!

And follow along to get updates on new weekly recordings by clicking “like” on the Go Play Project Facebook page.