You know those dreams where you’re at work or school, right before you have to do something important, and in your dream you can’t remember a SINGLE thing about what you’re doing? It’s all gone – the topic you’re presenting, the lesson plan, the ability to manage a multiple-line telephone without hanging up on anybody, whatever it is that’s stressing out your subconscious.
This happens to me in real life.
My day job (one of them, anyway) is more of a morning/afternoon/evening job, sometimes all three on the same day. I play the piano professionally at two universities, classical piano (so please do not ask me to play anywhere that there might be a goldfish bowl for tips on the piano and people requesting “You know, the theme from Titanic, it’s all, like, la la la la laaa laaaaa”). Most of what I do involves playing the piano for instrumental and vocal music performance majors when they perform their solos. This means MANY hours in practice rooms, and since I live in the Pacific Northwest, the dress code can be fairly casual even at the university level. I figure if the professors are showing up to class in jeans and Birkenstocks (with socks, of course), they can’t really complain about my jeans, hoodie, and Converse sneakers. But for performances, it’s the whole shebang – black high heels, black stockings, black satin, black sparkles, black chiffon, and more Lycra underneath than I care to think about.
There is something about a performance evening that occasionally makes my brain go into a scary little world of its own. (It could be the Undergarments Of Steel cutting off circulation, but I prefer not to investigate this possibility too closely since I neeeed my extra-strength thigh-shaping pantyhose. And one particular industrial-strength “unmentionable” is absolutely essential for playing Brahms. Trust me on this.) I’ll sit down at the huge black grand piano, with the audience’s welcoming applause still echoing in the performance hall. The stage lights make everything glow, and I look at the open score laid out on the piano’s music rack, the angular beauty of the notes and staves and phrase markings in stark contrast to the creamy white of the pages.
And my brain says, “Ohhhh, pretty! Look at all the little black dots!”
And the rational part of me says, “Oh, CRAP.” I know how to play the piano. I’ve been doing it for since before the soloist was born, and oh dear, she’s looking at me with an expectant smile, waiting for her tuning note. Clarinet, clarinet, what does she need … a B-flat! If I think about it, I won’t be able to find it, so I let my hand locate it without thought – oh good, she looks happy enough, I’ll play it again. F, she needs an F now … yep, that’s an F.
While she tunes her instrument, I look more closely at this lovely wilderness of black and white. It’s kind of pretty, actually. All those wavy lines, and the dots, and words in Italian! It appears to be decorated, too – delicately drawn pencil lines connecting some of the dots, and inexplicable notes in my handwriting: “Wait for cue.” “Look up Irwin/Hall recording.” “Breathe!” (Breathe? Isn’t that HER job?!) And worse, things like “no accel [scribble] the [illegible] WATCH!!!!” With little eyeballs drawn over it. Apparently it’s crucial. I have no idea what it means.
Somehow, even in that nauseatingly vile moment where I suddenly do not know how to play the piano, it always works out. I always smile encouragingly at my soloist, put my hands in the right place on the keyboard (how do they know where to go?), we breathe together so our first entrance is perfectly together (so THAT’s what that means), and oh, bliss … it’s the Brahms Sonata No. 2 for Clarinet and Piano and of course I know how to play the piano, this is what I do, this is who I am.
It all works out. Which is encouraging at the moment, when I’m sitting in front of my computer with a brand new blog, and can’t think of a single word to write.