“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” Henry Ford
“I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.”
I’ve recently started practicing again. Having a chronic health condition means that there are periods of time when it is difficult for me to practice the piano, although I used to be a concert pianist. I look back ruefully to times as a child when I was obliged to practice and didn’t feel like it. How the time would drag!
I realize now that practicing the piano for me as a child was not a creative experience. It was a prescribed diet of scales, exercises, and sections of a sonata or prelude and fugue to memorize. I was forbidden to improvise, and sometimes didn’t even really like the pieces I was learning.
These days, I have the opposite experience. I let myself play, in the true sense of the word. I’m working on a Bach Partita, because the movements are short, and I can experience a sense of accomplishment working on a short movement over several days or weeks…And besides, I never get tired of Bach. I also improvise at the piano now. Or I dance to all kinds of music.
Unfortunately, I usually have barely got started, when my body tells me it’s time to stop.
Often, when I’m practicing, I remember my last teacher Chris Kite, and all the wonderful techniques he taught me. He loved Bach too. Whenever he has come to mind until now, I have always felt a sense of failure. I’m not now the pianist he was preparing me to be, thanks to my health. He died at the age of 48, and I’ve always felt I was failing him in not passing on his legacy as a performer.
This week was different though. He came into my mind as usual, and suddenly I realized that he probably hadn’t done everything he wanted to do in his life either. Becoming terminally ill at a relatively young age was a massive shock for him and his family, but I know that he achieved a certain measure of peace at the end.
Suddenly I imagine him looking down on me benevolently, and acknowledging me for sitting down at the piano once again, despite illness and countless setbacks, and choosing to play Bach.
Setbacks–we all have them, whether it’s illness, injury, bereavement, unemployment, professional ‘failure’, financial difficulties, divorce… No one’s life is without challenge. Yet we can all choose to express ourself and our creativity, despite, or even because of what life hands us.
What if reaching the stratosphere is unimportant after all? Our ability to express our unique spark is all we have. My acting improv classes have taught me a lot about taking risks, being open, being willing to fail. It’s when we are at our most vulnerable and open that we become the most captivating. It’s humanity, not perfection that connects us.
Do you experience playfulness and joy when playing your instrument or singing? What helps you to express yourself without judgment? How do you recover from setbacks? I’d love to hear your experiences.