06 June 2016

In the Head of An Average Accompanist

Yesterday I accompanied my friend Amy and her sisters as they sang a special musical number at church. Amy and sisters grew up doing musical theater, so their voices were divine and a treat to hear! Her sisters came into town Saturday evening, and we had 90 minutes to practice the song together at the church building Saturday night and 15 minutes to practice the song on Sunday morning. I had received the sheet music on Friday, but since I don't have room for a piano in my apartment, I just reviewed the sheet music to make sure it would be simple enough to accompany with very little practice time. It looked good - one key change from B flat to C. Seemed like something I could pretty much sight read, which is the only way I could be successful with less than two hours of practice.

I love accompanying on the piano, but I've never been a great performer. Acting, tests, music, make me so nervous, I get in my own head just worrying about what might happen. Before show time I review the material frequently, focusing on the parts I've messed up on before, thinking that perhaps if I focus on it for a few seconds I might be able to fix it when I'm nervous on stage. This usually goes against me, because I'll be playing the song and think to myself "Ooh! I played that part really well just now and totally synced with the singers." BLAMMO! Mistake! Right after I thought how great I was doing, probably because I was thinking about it and not letting the music just happen.

So when I accompany anyone on the piano, I like to have the music pretty well down so that my hands can do the work on their own, despite whatever anxiety or self-congratulations are happening in my mind.

I didn't have enough time to get the music into my hands for yesterdays performance. *insert wide eyes emoji face*

We arrived at church on Saturday night, and I had trouble catching on to the sharps and flats thrown into the music, and at times my hands felt like they were abnormally stretched. By the end of the practice session I felt like I had played the all parts of the piece right at some point, just not straight through. So theoretically, I thought, it must be possible for me to play the whole song, every note, perfectly.

Sunday morning I prayed for divine assistance to help my hands play as best as possible, considering the short time frame to practice, because this special musical number wasn't about me - it was about the spirit those sisters could bring to the meeting with their incredible voices. I went early to church and sat down at the piano. Sleep is magic for the brain and performance. I played it better the first time, just sitting down to the piano Sunday morning, than I had any time the night before. But as I practiced parts where I was nervous about the fingering or sharps and flats, I started making mistakes and getting in my own head.

Deep breaths. It's not about me. That's what I was telling myself when we got up on the stand when it was time for our special musical number. Then my right foot started shaking uncontrolably. It's rare for this to happen any more. It used to happen when I first started accompanying choirs in middle school, but as I grew in music I knew how to prepare myself and detach myself from the performance so my nervousness wouldn't become physical (shaking hands and feet). Having a shaking foot might not be so bad, except that it was my right foot that I put on the sustaining pedal. My bouncing foot was literally shaking the piano.

I started playing, but my brain was on my foot. Take a deep breath. Maybe if I breathe and become calm it will stop shaking. Nope! Maybe as I get farther into the song I will become more comfortable and recognize that the song is so close to finishing that my foot will stop shaking. Nope! Violent shaking until the very end of the song.

But what was incredible was that I made very few mistakes with my hands. The piano sounded as good as it possibly could have sounded with only two hours of practice. I was able to roll through the mistakes I did make, with my hands finding the next note. This is seriously a miracle, because the whole time my brain was in two places - looking at the sheet music for notes, and looking at the sheet music flap around because my foot was dancing on the pedals while physically trying so hard to tense up or relax to lessen the shaking.

As soon as I stood up from the piano and started walking, of course my foot stopped shaking. It didn't even shake when I sat down in the pew next to Scott to listen to the rest of the meeting

That was an answer to prayer, I thought to myself. I can't say whether I played better because my mind was on my foot instead of looping worry or if I played better because I was blessed with a capacity beyond my own in a moment of physical weakness. Either way I see it as an answer to my prayer to be able to play beyond my abilities because I knew I didn't have enough practice to give the accompanyment justice on my own.

Its certainly not the answer I had imagined. I imagined a practically perfect performance coming through my hands with no other complications. If I had received this type of answer, I don't think I would have felt so humbled after our performance. Instead I might have thought about what a great sight reader I've become.

This was a good reminder to me, as I was fasting and thinking about our fertility journey, that prayers are not always answered exactly in the way that I might expect, but that a loving Heavenly Father does answer prayers in a way that will teach and humble me.