Go Practice!

When it comes to practicing challenging music, I am a little out of practice. 😉 Yes, I have rehearsed and performed solos with high school students and played for our all-school musical this school year. There were challenges, but none which required extended focused practice.

I am currently preparing to accompany seven college students at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition. Each singer prepares four pieces from different time periods with contrasting styles.

Let’s do some math: 7 singers x 4 pieces = 28 individual songs.

I have played some of this music in years past. Some songs immediately returned to my hands. Muscle memory took over and the notes fit right under my fingers. Others, not so easy. Plus there are new ones I’m learning for the first time.

While talking to my mom on the phone today, I mentioned going home to practice after school. She laughed and said, “It’s been a while since you’ve really had to practice, huh?” I’m afraid she is right.

I have great sight-reading skills. Skills which have helped me through many a lesson, rehearsal, and even some performances. Not a practice I would recommend. And certainly not one acceptable for this current playing opportunity.

Practicing is hard work! Not a new truth. It was my life for many years. I can’t say I miss spending 3-4 hours a day in a practice room. But I was young and didn’t need to rest or stretch every 30 minutes. Nor did I have these pains in my neck and shoulders…

Despite the physical challenges which now accompany extended practice time, it is time well-spent. The list of benefits could go on and on, but here are a few:

  • Finally correcting a wrong note/rhythm
  • Repeating a particular phrase until it works
  • Combining my practice with the practice of others
  • Creating beautiful music

I suppose this experience falls into the life-long learner category. Learning new music and re-learning old. Discovering the need to change my practice habits. Shorter amounts of time, practicing more efficiently. Yes, I still have the ability. The process just looks a little different than it did thirty years ago.

I’ve had some dinner and taken a couple of Aleve. Put on a pot of decaf. Beginning to feel a tiny bit rested. Guess I’d better go practice! 🎶🎹🎶

Thoughts from the Orchestra Pit

Have you considered how many times in our lives are we called to provide a foundation for something we will never get to see? Parents, teachers, even musicians in an orchestra pit can all relate to this dilemma. How will we know if all our hard work paid off? Did we provide enough support to lead to a positive outcome?

Decisions we make as parents definitely fit that description. Parenting is hard work. We raise our children not knowing what their future holds. All we can do is our best. Trusting that we laid a strong, though most assuredly imperfect, foundation.

This idea also applies to a teacher. Think about all of the students a teacher inspires. New groups every year multiplied by the years taught. The numbers can be staggering. And the range of influence for all of them cannot be seen. Yet teachers continue to lay a foundation for students to learn and be successful.

As I was practicing in the orchestra pit this week for our upcoming all-school musical, it hit me how the experience provides a literal illustration for this truth. Think about it. All these amazing musicians, hidden under the stage, working hard every day to play beautiful music. And their music provides sure footing for everything that happens on stage.

The downside? We never get to fully see the amazing things occurring on stage. If there’s a long enough pause in the music, we might stand up and catch a glimpse of the actors and sets. Since we are performing during the most dramatic and exciting parts, those we never get to see at the moment.

Although it makes for an interesting predicament, those of us in the pit wouldn’t change a thing. We get to be a part of something bigger than us. Something which takes many people doing many different jobs to succeed. The final outcome is incredible, and we get to be the foundation. (Not to mention, it’s a fun place to hang out.) 😉

Even though we may not be able to see the final outcome in each of these situations, there are moments which affirm our choices. For a parent that affirmation may come in witnessing a thoughtful or compassionate action by their child. For a teacher, it might come in a simple thank you from a former student. No, not the end result, but the motivation to continue doing what needs to be done.

So, what about those musicians in the orchestra pit? What is that moment for us? I’d have to say it’s at the very end of the show. That moment when all the singers, actors and dancers have taken their bow and they direct the audience’s attention to the pit. They all point in unison towards us, showing their appreciation while encouraging the audience to do the same.

Hopefully, this reflection will help me look for more of those significant moments instead of worrying about the future. Realizing what I do today is important. And that I am not working alone. No matter which role I happen to be in on any given day, there are others right alongside me, working for the same outcome, laying the same foundation.

Here’s to hope for the future, which just happens to include a bunch of talented students performing in a musical-on stage and in the pit.

Good snacks in the pit are a must! 😉