My Favorite Seat

The past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours in my favorite seat. Hours practicing piano, preparing for rehearsals with young musicians. Some were singers, others played instruments. All of them dedicated and hardworking students. My job? To be their accompanist, providing support for their music-making endeavors.

Opportunities like these often fill my head with thoughts of more performing jobs. Memories of the years when playing piano consumed more of my time begin to surface. And although those were good times, this train of thought can be a dangerous one. Feelings of restlessness begin to creep in, causing uncertainty and doubts about my teaching.

Not so on this particular occasion…

This past Thursday, I spent the day accompanying high school students at State Solo-N-Ensemble contest. That evening I also participated in their chamber music concert. Such a fun, rewarding day of performing.

What happened after the concert had the most surprising impact.

As I left the concert, my phone started buzzing. The students I had accompanied all day were sending thanks through text messages.

“Thank you for being my accompanist!!!”
“Thank you for everything, Mrs. Morris!”
“I loved playing music with you!”

Suddenly my thoughts were not on seeking more playing opportunities. My thoughts were on the amazing opportunities I already have. “Best of both worlds” kept entering my mind. Both worlds? What does that mean?

Ah…performing and teaching.

Yes, my favorite seat is behind the piano. However, I cannot spend all my time there. Time spent in a classroom is also important. I must recognize the value of getting off of that piano bench and teaching the next generation.

Who knows, maybe some of my elementary students will grow up to be accomplished musicians. Maybe future requests for an accompanist will come from some of them. I hope so!

Accompanying my son, Robert. 🙂

An Old Friend

I love old friendships. You know the ones. Those which don’t seem to recognize the passing of time. Even if you haven’t seen each other in years, you pick up right where you left off. Memories of times past mix with the present, providing a comforting familiarity.

Sometimes music is like those friendships. Certain songs are stored in memory banks. Suddenly one plays, and I’m transported back in time. I can remember clearly a specific person, place, or time. In that sense, a song is like an old friend.

Last weekend I rehearsed with some oboe players for an upcoming studio recital. I’ve accompanied this studio for many years, and have become very familiar with the repertoire. After the rehearsal, I offhandedly referred to my accompaniment book as “an old friend.”

Today was recital day! Students were well prepared, some a little nervous. With the exception of one new piece this year, each song was pulled from my memory bank. I smiled as we began to play.

Yes, the students were different, but the music was the same. The notes and rhythms were familiar. The phrases were comforting.

Obviously, a book of music is not the same as a person. But as I played these familiar songs today, it felt as if I was visiting an old friend.

My seat during the recital. 🙂

Encouraging Student Musicians

Today was solo-n-ensemble contest day. I spent the entire day accompanying brass, string, and woodwind players. Twenty-five of them to be exact. These young musicians spent many hours over the last weeks and months preparing for today. Choosing a piece, learning notes and rhythms, memorizing, rehearsing with their accompanist.

Today, all of their hard work culminated in one brief performance. Each of them walked into a room, faced their judge, and began to play. Making beautiful music. That is the point. At least, it is supposed to be…

No student walks in that room thinking, “I really hope I don’t play well today. Hopefully, I will have a big memory slip.” Those statements are ridiculous! Each student hopes for positive results. They want to play their best. They are hoping for the highest rating and a chance to move on to the next level.

After some of the first ratings posted this morning, I overheard a disturbing conversation. Students who had received their scores were warning other students. “Well, if you make one mistake, there’s no way you will receive a I (the highest score.)” They were attempting to prepare their friends for probable disappointment in this particular room.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting everyone deserves the highest rating. I certainly would not want to be in the judge’s seat. However, I can speak as a professional musician concerning our responsibility to these young musicians. If we are pushing perfection, we have it all wrong.

I’m happy to say the other rooms I accompanied in did not have this effect. The atmospheres were inviting and encouraging. The results in those rooms also accurately reflected the performances. Performances of high school musicians, not professional ones.

As adult musicians, college long behind us, career paths chosen, it is easy to forget those early days of learning. The anxiety that often accompanies those first performances. The searching for approval.

Today I was reminded that this seven-minute performance represented so much for these young performers. They needed someone to acknowledge their hard work. And their hopes for positive results rested in the hands of a complete stranger. Hopefully, a stranger who recognized the power they held in those seven short minutes.



Unpleasant Companion

Today began my summer music job with Rose Rock Opera Institute, bringing an opportunity to do several things I enjoy. Reconnecting with old friends, meeting new people, and most of all-playing piano.  I would be accompanying voice lessons for some amazingly talented young singers.

So why did I wake up several times during the night in a cold sweat?  Why did the day start with a knot in my stomach?  Why was there a veil of fog to push through while getting ready?  That unpleasant companion-anxiety.  Not the old friend with which I wished to reconnect, yet there it was.

As I prepared for the day, my heart racing, there was only one thing to do.  Keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other. Prayers, deep breaths and listening to some James Taylor also helped.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting anxiety is something you just get over.  I’ve been very honest about my views on medication and its helpfulness.  In this instance however, it was important for me to recognize the anxiety, name it, and brainstorm ways to cope.  Acknowledging its presence was the first step.

Did this unpleasant companion ruin my day?  No.  I did reconnect with old friends, meet new people, and play beautiful music. Although it faded as the day progressed, it did not completely disappear.  Will it still be tagging along when I return to Rose Rock tomorrow?  Possibly.  But it will not keep me from returning.