03 November 2009

Piano Proficiency (ii)

I've never been one for favorites, top-ten lists, and the like. As a kid I refused to identify a "best friend," maintaining that all my friends were important to me. These days, I refuse to name favorite composers on the grounds that no composer's output taken collectively could qualify. I think it's infinitely more helpful to name favorite pieces individually, as this paints a much clearer picture (the Postroll exemplifies the same approach taken to bloggers). The favorite instrument question is similarly flawed, and yet, there's been little doubt in my mind for several years that the piano is my favorite instrument. Perhaps a better way to put it is that much of my favorite music is written for the piano, and also that I enjoy writing for the piano myself quite thoroughly. If only I had learned to play it.

I do like the sound of the tuba, and even enjoy playing it from time to time, yet within the last several years, I suddenly haven't been able to shake the feeling that there's more to life, a feeling I wasn't burdened with before, and which afforded me the focus needed to develop my technique quite well, yet which now has made it all but impossible to find the discipline necessary to continue to advance technically on the instrument. Concurrently, whereby the hardest thing about sitting down to play piano has always been the sudden feeling of being handicapped in comparison to the instrument I had invested so much more time in learning, the attraction of more immediate technical advancement per unit of practice on an instrument where I have less experience has become seductive, even if the endgame is inevitably the same.

What's new here is my willingness to oblige this temptation, not its presence. I've always been inclined to pick up new instruments, starting after only a year of playing euphonium in band when I begged my mom to buy me a trumpet, and going through high school, where I often showed up to pep band events with a sousaphone, euphonium, and trumpet in hand, and where I once took a clarinet out of the band room behind the teacher's back and got reasonably competent at it within a couple of weeks in just a few minutes a day at home. I received what I considered to be good advice from many people along the way about the prospect of being a multi-instrumentalist, advice which invariably parroted the "jack of all trades, master of none" zinger. Eventually, I heard it enough that I came to believe it, and in fact, it's undoubtedly for the better that I've at least been as far as I have down the path of specialization, for should I decide to veer off of it, I'm eminently better equipped to do so. Nonetheless, it's hard not to wonder if that impulse couldn't have been turned into something the way my somewhat less acute impulse to rescue the reputation of the tuba has been turned into, well...something else.

While it appeared for some time following my sudden adolescent musical conversion from uncooperative pupil to star student that the tuba was the destination, it's looking more and more like merely part of the journey these days. I'm finding my interests too diverse and my patience too short to continue doing what has to be done to develop my tuba playing to its fullest potential. I feel dirty just writing that, but it's true: I could not see the path to tuba virtuosity more clearly and could not abhor it more thoroughly than I do. That's not because it's not worth it, or because I wouldn't love to have it, but simply because my tolerance for the menial technical work like lip slurs, long tones, and articulation drills which got me ahead of the game in college has been burned to shreds, my resolve to give it another go crushed by too many "square one" moments that I don't feel I've earned, but which the combination of my physique and mental approach have yielded over and over against every effort to the contrary.

I don't expect my piano playing to catch up to my tuba playing anytime soon, and I'm certainly not giving up on the tuba altogether. I've just realized, like many "professionals," that I need a way to make playing tuba fun again. I've also waited way too long to make playing piano fun for the first time.

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