The Piano Lesson

"Failure in the creative life is not only a risk, a possibility to be avoided, but an eventuality to be embraced.  Worrying we might fail leads to fear and paralysis; it leads to making 'safe' decisions instead of the ones demanded by our art, our longings." ~ David DuChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy

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Three days until my first recital and I am playing my pieces for my teacher.  She sits quietly behind me, eyes closed as she listens.  As I finish each piece she offers praise, suggestions and advice.

She looks at me intently.  "Don't be discouraged if you make a mistake on Saturday," she comments.  "Everyone makes mistakes and it is okay.  Just play through the mistakes and most people won't even notice."

I am a little taken aback.  Is she telling me this because she knows from what she has heard today that I am destined to err on Saturday? I continue to listen to her critique and realize that I'm wrong;  it isn't because of my performance that she has given me this advice, but rather because during this past year she has come to know me well.  

She knows I am a perfectionist and can be very hard on myself.  It's true, I don't like to fail.

I cannot pinpoint when or how I became this way but at some point in my early years I began comparing myself to others and found myself lacking.  I cannot blame my parents or teachers; they were always supportive and encouraging.  Instead it seems as if it was a character trait born out of a sense of insecurity, of not being good enough.  I have always had a fear of failure that at times has kept me from doing what I love.

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"Nothing is perfect the first time.  Or ever." ~ David DuChemin, A Beautiful Anarchy

It's funny; I am very good at setting aside time to practice piano daily and yet I don't do the same for my art.  Perhaps it is because with my piano lessons I am being held accountable by my teacher, but I think it is also because I know I won't improve if I don't practice.  I dream of sitting down and just choosing a piece of music to play and I willingly work towards that goal.  

So why don't I do that with my art?  Is it because I am only being held accountable to myself?  It seems that everyday I am able to create a list of things that need to be done before I sit down and create.  Popeye needs a walk.  The clothes need to be folded.  The email must be answered.  It has become second nature to me to just put it off for another day.  I know that to improve as an artist I need to dedicate time to my craft, to set aside fears of failure and push the envelope.  I am always asking my piano teacher to give me challenging pieces but as soon as I feel challenged in art?  I freeze, afraid to move forward.  

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"The real failure is to rob this world of the contribution that only you can make."  David Duchemin, A Beautiful Anarchy

When I am wrestling with thoughts such as these I am often surprised by the messages I receive  from the Universe.  Last night I posted the montage above on Instagram to participate in a project circulating with the hashtag #artvsartist.  The basic idea is to find similarities between the photograph of the artist and the work he or she creates.  When I went on Instagram today I found an invitation to join The Giving Gallery, a new online gallery that supports mental health nonprofits.  It felt as if the Universe was giving me a giant nudge, an affirmation that I should not give up on my art, that I should value my work and, more importantly, value myself.

As for the recital, I am happy to report that yes, I did make a few mistakes, but you know what?  I kept calm and played on.  We all did and each of our songs sounded beautiful.  It was such a learning moment for me, to see that even the most accomplished pianists in our little group still were capable of making mistakes.  It was a lovely afternoon spent celebrating our collective love of music and fellowship and I look forward to our next recital.