Spring has arrived in the NorthWoods as well as the rest of the state this week. No it’s not the weather that has allowed me this revelation. Certainly the cold Nordic air mixed with little white flakes does nothing to remind me of spring. Instead the appearance of the endless music recitals is always my harbinger of spring and impending summer.
I am a product of spring recitals. Faced as a youngster with the springtime piano recital, my joy for music was completely expunged. I loved playing the piano at home. I would bang along to my favorite pop tunes, a piano bench full of sheet music. But the recitals were always another story altogether. I never got to play those pop tunes. Instead I would carefully prepare for weeks or months a piece hand selected by my teacher to prove my increased proficiency. It wasn’t always classical music. I remember one year playing an absolutely dreadful jazzed up version of Old MacDonald that seemed to last forever. It wasn’t just the music I detested; it was the feeling of the recital. The noticeable inhaling of the entire audience as one sat down to play. The realization that they were holding their breath hoping not to exhale until the piece was over. You see, as soon as the first blatant mistake was made – a wrong note, a loss of timing, or the dreaded complete loss of any knowledge of the song –the entire audience would exhale together in the sound of a mournful sigh. There is no sadder sound for the young student standing or sitting in front or for that matter to the next student waiting to be led to the site of execution then the group sigh. Needless to say, I stopped taking piano lessons as soon as my mother decided I and everyone else in the family had suffered enough, seven years of suffering to be exact.
When I began playing the violin as an adult in my 30’s I was surprised that my feelings towards recitals had not changed. If anything my sense of impending doom was heightened. Although I enjoyed playing in a group, the instrument became a torture contraption as each recital neared. That all changed one day, however, when I stood up to play my piece and instead of starting right into the piece I opened my mouth. Out popped the words, “Hi, my name is Dayle and I have stage fright.” My teacher looked horrified. The audience however looked totally relieved. Someone yelled, “Hello, Dayle” as if they were attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and the entire place broke out laughing. With those few words, the atmosphere changed. No longer was the audience silent, stiff, and breathless. Instead of waiting for the mistakes to begin, they began cheering each correct note. Their encouragement was palpable as I made it through the piece to its completion. I would love to say that the piece was perfect, that miraculously my performance was spotless. It wasn’t. There were missed notes and missed pitches, dropped notes and perhaps dropped measures. Truth is I haven’t ever played a piece perfectly and I never will. But that isn’t what music or performances are all about.
The beauty of music is its ability to stir in both the performer and the listener a range of emotions. Its beauty is not in its perfection, it’s in its sharing of something deep. Music mimics life and life is not perfect. I don’t participate in recitals anymore. I much prefer “musical extravaganzas” where the rules and expectations are simple. The musicians play music they enjoy; music they would play even if it wasn’t on the practice list. In addition they must try to share that joy with the audience. There are rules for the audience as well. They must cheer often and wildly. They must forget every wrong note and remember only the correct ones. Finally, they need to remember the courage it takes to stand in front of family and friends and bare one’s soul.
I have no doubt that countless of us will either be performing in or listening to recitals in the coming weeks. Any recital however can easily be turned into a musical extravaganza, perhaps not in the title, but in the heart where it matters most. Breathe deeply and often, smile for the simple joy of being with a group of people sharing a moment never to be repeated, and relish the fact that someone, sometimes very young, is willing to open up and tell you about themselves without uttering a word.
–Dayle Quigley, Hayward, Wis.