At the end of each season, I am acknowledged by the choruses I accompany. The chair of one of the groups invariably comments on how “unflustered” I am. Truthfully, I always wonder what there is to be stressed out about in rehearsal, or even during a performance. It is a relatively structured and predictable environment. I know my music. Everything else will just roll along. Right?
Last week, he told the group he learned why I am so calm at the piano. He heard a (true) story that when my kids were young, they would often sit on my lap and try to play along when I was practicing Beethoven sonatas. Ah, yes. That was hard. Thankfully I have never performed with kids on my lap.
But many other things have happened. I’ve been at performances where my pages fell on the floor or blew away. I have performed on pianos with keys and pedals that don’t work. I have performed with page turners that missed a page turn so significant that I had to intervene and start flipping madly to the place I needed to be while cobbling together some semblance of the accompaniment with one hand. I have accompanied singers that have missed entire sections of the piece. I once dropped out of playing a few measures to catch up with an instrumental soloist who made a rhythmic mistake. I took the heat so it wouldn’t look like she screwed up, and she actually won her audition.
Then there are my own mistakes, of which there are many. Just one example is this: early on in my life, when I was 9 or 10, I was performing Beethoven’s Fur Elise in a recital by memory. No lie, I sat down at the piano and played the entire first section correctly, but in the WRONG KEY. I had simply started on the wrong note. I didn’t know what I had done until I got to the next section and realized I couldn’t continue like that. I started over again, apparently unfazed because I got through it fine.
I have had so many performance mishaps and embarrassments that I really don’t know how I ever became a musician except for extreme stubbornness, which I suppose in this one case is a good trait to have. I imagine the opportunities for getting flustered might have deterred many.
I even had a first-time occurrence at my concert tonight: the piano key cover fell on my hands during the performance, knocked down accidentally by my page turner! There was nothing to do but keep playing. The audience, and perhaps even my director, didn’t even know something happened. I’m not even sure if I made any noise from the surprise.
Not much bothers me at the piano now.
I suppose the predictability of performance is realizing that anything can happen. The show must go on!