Saturday, June 9, 2012

What I learnt from a concert pianist

For my last three years at uni, I lived with a concert pianist.  There wasn’t a piano in our house so she practised at the church next door.  I can’t believe that now as I think back on it.  In winter, it must have been like playing Liszt in Antarctica.  And, yeah, I threw in the name of a composer there to make you think I might know something about music.  I know nothing.  I just remember that he was one of the composers she talked about.  And Debussy because I have a really lame joke about Beethoven and Debussy – but that’s for another day.

So next door she would disappear for hours and hours to practise piano.  She was very good.  Really good.  And really disciplined compared to the effort I was putting into researching my history essays. Before I lived with a concert pianist, I didn’t know much about music practice. One of the things I quickly learnt is that pianists do not start at the beginning of a piece and then play through to the end over and over again.  In fact, they tackle the piece bit by bit.  Sometimes a phrase at a time.  Over and over.

At one stage, she was working with some really important piano guy and mastering a new technique which involved rotating her wrists as she played a particular bit.  Over and over, till she just about had RSI.  Even at the dinner table, she’d absentmindedly move her wrists in little circles and drum her fingers as she remembered part of her piece. It all paid off because she was, and is, a brilliant pianist.
All of this came back to me a little while ago as I was thinking about types of knowledge and learning.  You see, I am driven by a certain kind of knowledge.  I like to learn things by reading, talking and thinking.  I enjoy acquiring cerebral knowledge.  But that’s really only one type of knowledge acquisition.  And when I became a parent, I found that kind of knowledge didn’t help me as much as I’d hoped.

Parenting problem?  Read a book!  That was my plan.  But why isn’t it working if I’ve read about it and I understand it and I can even explain it to someone else? I think it’s partly because I haven’t recognized that parenting also requires me to attend to practise in order to fully acquire that knowledge.  To know how to play the piano means to play the piano.
When I read a parenting book and the next day discover I’m still not Super-parent (totally patient and able to end all whinging in a single bound), I’ve got to get over my tendency to despair and think it’s all a failure.  I just need to do it more.  Practise that phrase over and over. Practise patience again and again.  Work on being forgiving instead of just acknowledging the importance of the idea.  It’s in the doing, that I can grow in the knowing how.


Tasmanian said...

Sounds like that concert pianist was a high-achieving perfectionist.

Deb said...

Yeah, but I like her a lot anyway. And she owns a laminator so she's not all bad.