But. Upstairs from that panel, in this building, hiding in a back corner where a group of asipiring Senior Thespians meet? There is a black Yamaha baby grand. It's a beautiful instrument - high F has a fraying string. E above middle C rattles - probably needs a tuner to come take a poke at it and see if the dampers are engaging like they should, or if that's another string that needs replacing. It's common in older, heavy-use pianos to have the dampers - which are not complex, but heavily articulated - do some odd things when they haven't been adjusted in a while.
I knew I'd be stuck there after work. So, in a quiet moment earlier in the day, I went looking for something. I had to know.
I started taking piano when I was about seven, and played until about twenty-two, religiously until I was, oh, what, nineteen? It was my first job - I used to teach very little ones how to play. Chopin? Bergmueller? Debussy? Mozart? They went in through the eyes and came out through the fingers.
Then? I met Erica. We ended up dating, we lasted quite a while; we went through college in part - and that's a whole other story.
Anyway - she'd been playing as long as I had; she had the same love but less burnout. You see, I /knew/, when I sat down to play, that something was missing. I'd known for years, and just never could put my finger on it. It wasn't dedication - though I was sloppy about practicing, I admit. It was.. something else. Something /she/ had.
See? She had /talent/.
People who play music know - anyone can learn how to play anything. You can learn to read music, you can get the mechanics right; rote muscle-memory will eventually ingrain how your fingers sit, how you breathe, how you move, how this motion in this way with this inflection will create this sound. But that's only half of it. You can be the best technical player in the state, in the country, and.. it doesn't matter. It's just technique.
If you can't make the art, if you can't somehow connect past the technique to the right side of your brain and put emotion into those motions, to understand intiuitively that you can emote through the instrument at hand? You aren't playing. You're playing simon says with a guy who died a couple hundred years ago (at.. least.. if you're a classical pianist. If you're a saxophonist or something, they're probably not all dead yet. But you get the idea.)
She had that. HAS that. She reached out past all of that technique and she could make that piano sing. And .. I never could. I had all the technique in the world - I could do any scale by rote, in even timbre; I could voice any note in a chord you could name. I could feel my way through the composer's work thematically - but she could make you get goosebumps.
So, when it comes down to it - other than the occasional poking at an instrument here and there, after playing piano for nearly fifteen years, I haven't touched it for .. what. Another ten-ish? Something like.
But that piano's been taunting me. I could sit down at it - touch the keys; I have a couple times. Put fingers to ivories and sent something out that was sloppier than I remembered.. but it was music. And it - surprised the hell out of me.
Today, I downloaded a very simple, modern, expressive piece - the kind of thing that I could sight read, back in the day. Knowing I had thirty minutes, an hour, maybe longer? I sat down and started playing. And.. I lost myself. Note after note - as the rust started to flake off, I could hear it, behind my eyes - how it should sound. I worked out the simple mistakes you make in learning phrases, repeated some again and again - slowly reminded my fingers that moving like this makes this sound ...
Two hours went past, before I noticed.
And .. just before I got up, I played through it. There's still a passage I don't have yet - three pages. Four minutes. And the.. technique is still there. I know how it sounds, and I'm up to tempo, my mistakes are being overcome; that one tricky transition is all that's keeping me from saying 'I know this one'. But it doesn't matter -
For the first time in years, I made a piano sing. I could hear it, coming back from the cinderblock walls - I could adjust it. I could put my heart into the piece and have it come back with the intonations I wanted to hear.
I'll never be a virtuoso. But after ten years, I finally discovered that maybe what I needed to do was put it aside for a while and just live, for a bit. And now? Now, I don't think I can stop playing. At least. I don't want to.
See.. it sang.