I’ve had the giggles this week, especially while teaching.
It all started with the electrifying performances at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (www.cliburn.tv). The poise of these young performers is almost unbelievable, and their death-defying acts of pianism are inspiring, amazing, exciting, and rejuvenating.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last few days I’ve heard a performance of a piece of music I used to play. Often, I’ve been moved to rifle through my music cabinets, then go back to the piano to play something I haven’t looked at since high school. Lots of train wrecks have been happening on my old Steinway, but I’ve had lots of fun, too, as well as the occasional moment of something that sounds pretty darn good.
Inspired by 20-year old phenom Tsujii Naboyuki, the blind Japenese pianist who was one of the tying gold medalists, I even attempted to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, a piece that’s been in my repertoire since age 11, with a blindfold on. The result wasn’t pretty, but it was enlightening, and I’d encourage anyone who has an old warhorse sitting around to try the experiment for themselves.
While surfing around the Cliburn website, I came upon the information and application for the amateur arm of the Van Cliburn competition. Now, make no mistake, this may be an amateur competition, as in “not a concert pianist,” but the playing here is at a very high level, mostly by people who could have gotten (or did get into) fine conservatories as students, but ultimately elected to pursue a saner way of making a living.
The requirements for the competition include that you be over 35 (in other words, it’s not a back door to a debut concert career). That’s fair. No ringers allowed.
You can’t make your living (or most of your living) as a concert pianist (in other words, it’s not a career bumper) Okay, that’s fair, too.
And you can’t make your living (or most of your living) teaching music. Which seems reasonable, right? Unfair advantage and all that?
Or does it?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of EVER entering this, or any other piano competition, so I’ve got no dog in this fight. However, as I’ve spent my week going about my teaching, this “no teachers” restriction has had me bursting out in uncontrolled giggles, usually in the middle of a lesson.
I guess it gives me an unfair advantage when I spend my workdays :
Reminding Student A that the finger in his mouth is the same finger that is supposed to go on middle C.
Telling Student B that no matter how many time he plays that “B” it is always going to sound wrong, and it will continue to sound wrong until he looks at the music and figures out that he is supposed to be playing a different note.
Trying to figure out how to get Little Student C to stretch her tiny hands so that she can get to that top A in “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
Explaining to Student D’s parents that coming to a piano lesson once a week does not constitute “practice” and that unless the child actually touches the piano a few times a week, he has a better chance of flying into space than he does of getting through Book I of the “How to Play Piano” series.
Don’t get me wrong: I like my students. Right now, I’ve got a great studio of kids, and I happen to be truly fond of every one of them: They are cute and funny, and fun to teach, and most of them actually practice once in a while. And while it’s true that I AM teaching a few more advanced students some Chopin nocturnes and some of the easier Beethoven and Mozart sonatas and such, the vast majority of my time is spent on finger number one, finger number two, and pleas to COUNT COUNT COUNT, and TRY TRY TRY to remember what “every good boy deserves.”
So it tickles my funny bone to think that this job disqualifies me from standing on a stage, just me and the black beast, to wrestle in public with my Chopin G minor Ballade or my Beethoven “Les Adieux.”
Student E wiggles her tooth for me and announces that it might come out during this very lesson, and I tell her my cardinal rule: “No blood on the piano.”
And the giggling starts again.