Tomorrow I audition for the Polk Award, a small $1,000 or $500 award given to a pianist and a string player at Scripps College. There’s one other pianist in the running, and I’ve been practicing a lot these past few days.
Yesterday, I practiced my repertoire for about 3 hours in Balch auditorium where I’ll be auditioning. After about an hour of playing on the concert grand Steinway, I completely focused in on the music. The music filled the large, church-like space and resonated back through my consciousness, smothering the choir of doubt, self-consciousness and worry in my head.
It’s these moments, these hours of rapture that make the years of practicing worth it. Even learning four pieces takes years of learning, practicing and perfecting. But after living with the pieces, there comes a point where I build enough trust in myself where the very act of playing a piece changes in a fundamental manner.
The process of learning each piece takes months. It starts with learning what’s printed on the music – playing the right notes at the right time at the right loudness. After laying this technical foundation, there’s the polishing – turning the notes on the page into vibrant melodies and harmonies that go beyond what can be expressed on paper. Giving black and white circles on a staff of ten lines different colors and textures. All while continuing to refine the nitty-gritty details of notes, articulation and dynamics.
And then comes the day, like yesterday, when all of the worries about playing the right notes evaporate. And all that is left is the lush tonalities of music. Live music. Vibrant music that springs forth from the piano and takes a life of its own, turning the unidirectional act of the pianist hitting keys and making music back onto itself. So that when the music starts, it possesses the pianist and flows through the pianist. I sometimes think, I know what I’ve just played and I know where the piece is going to go, but I have no conscious control over the music. It’s been surrendered to the music that’s awakening and stretching out.
Alone in the auditorium, I play. And alone, I am played. I am no longer the creator of the music. I become its conduit. And as I play, I know that there is no doubt, no worry that can be imposed by any judge that can stop the flow of the music.
Now if that happens with real-live judges sitting in front of me, I’ll be set. Wish me luck tomorrow.