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Music for what ails you.

by Bruce Siegel on September 10th, 2010

My session got off to a good start today, but when it came time to let go of the practicing and play for pure pleasure, it seemed there was nothing I really wanted to do.

I thought about the music I’ve been playing recently, and also how much fun I’ve been having improvising, and none of it seemed appealing. I was feeling a bit down, actually (post-vacation blues, perhaps), and the fact that I had no appetite for playing didn’t help.

But . . . I’ve been enjoying playing so much lately, I felt it was at least worth a try.

So I picked up a book of baroque pieces I hadn’t opened in a while, and began to play an old favorite. I got into it a bit, and felt a tad better. But there were parts of it that were technically tricky (though I had played them perfectly in the past) and I didn’t feel like working to get them back.

So I turned to a simpler piece. A sad, slow one that’s really easy for me. Aah—I began to feel more alive. Suddenly, I could focus all my attention on the pure sound of each note. I could play straight from the heart.

After enjoying the rest of my session and then thinking about it later, it dawned on me why playing that little piece turned things around for me. It was as though I had found the perfect antidote for all my troubles:

• My life felt difficult today, so I was playing something simple.
• I often spend my days in a frantic rush; the tempo of this piece was deliciously relaxed.
• I was feeling sad, and I found the perfect vehicle for expressing that.

As to why I didn’t want to improvise, well, there’s a god reason for that, too. My vacation’s over, and suddenly I’m confronted, once again, with all sorts of decisions that have to be made—about this website, my private students, my finances, and so forth.

What a relief not to have to choose what notes to play! They were all right there on the page.

Today’s experience was a useful reminder. When I’m at the piano, my first impulse is usually to play whatever it was that gave me pleasure in my last session. Often that works—but not always.

And the more I trust what feels right to me in this moment, the better off I am.

By the way, after surrendering completely to my desire this morning for music that was slow, sad, and easy, by the time my session was ending, I was reinvigorated and playing some pretty lively stuff!

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