I sat down yesterday in front of my old but trusty piano, positioning my fingers above the keys. My back was straight, with one foot stretched and resting gently on the sustain pedal, the other curled under the seat. I glanced back up at the music in front of me, then pressed those fingers down.
Sure, sound was emanating from the piano, but it wasn't anything like how I used to play the song. A few chords in and my mind went blank. What was going on?
I tried, again and again, to resuscitate the dying spark that was once beautiful piano playing. I studied the music. I tapped a few uncooperating keys. But it seemed to be gone. I had once played this song with ease, almost being able to do it with my eyes closed if it weren't so complicated. But now the notes wafting on the air were nothing but a memory.
I stood up and walked around, berating myself for not having caressed those ivory keys in a long while. Maybe it's too hot in here, I thought, so I changed clothes to no avail. Those keys were mad at me, all 88 of them, and they were determined to see me fail.
The worst thing a pianist can do is think about what they're doing.
The realization hit like a warm summer rain: surprising yet refreshing. I'd been spending so much time thinking that I'd forgotten to just let my fingers do what they do best.
I took my glasses off. If I couldn't see the sheet music, I couldn't try to read it. I closed my eyes, tilted my head back, and took a deep breath, positioning my fingers atop those lovely worn keys for one last try.
And it happened. Not immediately, because I still wanted to think. My brain didn't want to surrender to my fingers. And every time I messed up, I knew it was the battle between my brain and my fingers. But after a few tries, and almost without realizing it, I had played the song every bit as fluidly, clearly, and soulfully as I did months ago. Unable to believe it, I played it again, and almost surprised myself with the dramatic crescendos and sustains and suspenseful pauses that I seemed to automatically inject from place to place.
Then I picked up momentum and switched from the powerful song I had just played to a more subtle song. I had worried earlier with this one as well because I couldn't even remember how the song went, much less think about starting it. My first few tries were threatening...my brain, sensing the new opportunity to take control, once again fought my fingers but lost. By the third try I had it and I could feel the energy surging from my fingertips. My eyes were closing and I began to sway with the music, pressing the keys as if I were dancing. Before I was quite ready to end the experience, the song ebbed away on its final soft notes.
And for those few seconds while I sat there, the last note still echoing in my head, heart pounding, everything was perfect.