Sunday, September 25, 2011

Directions to Carnegie Hall

One recent Saturday night, a friend and I went to see the Charlotte Symphony perform. We went because I wanted to hear “Pictures at an Exhibition,” one of my favorite pieces, but the Mussorgsky composition was not the only music on the program. In the first half a pianist named Martina Filjak was scheduled to play Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.” I don’t follow the classical musical world that much though it is quite often on my car stereo, and I had never heard of Filjak. I didn’t know what we were in for as she glided onto the stage in an emerald-green gown.

Filjak was phenomenal. It felt as if she had reached into me and was pounding my heart with her fingers. I instantly recognized the piece but watching her play and seeing the concentration on her face and the way her hands rose and fell as she waded into the music was like walking into a palace that I had only passed by -- blindfolded.

Aside from the fact that she possessed astounding technique combined with heart-rending musicality, I was also thinking about my recently deceased mother. I remembered watching my mother in her glittering red and gold dress as she sat at a big black Steinway grand on stage and tore up the keys. And I was also thinking about myself because since my mother’s death I have begun to teach myself to play.

The distance between the way I haltingly play the pieces from my daughter’s leftover piano lesson books and the way Filjak soars over the keyboard is probably equal to the distance between the moon and the sun. But I have discovered that playing the piano offers almost immediate rewards if I take the time to practice every day. And so I do. I play scales. I play a short piece by Beethoven, entitled “Rage Over a Lost Penny,” over and over again. My poor roommate probably hears it in her dreams. I fumble through “House of the Rising Sun.” And I get better little by little.

I don’t think anyone listening to me play the piano would call it a transformative experience. And they probably never will. And yet it is transforming me. Now I listen with a different, keener ear when I hear music. I am sure that neurons are digging new trenches in my brain. My ennui gives way to something like happiness.

There’s an old joke that poses the question: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer, of course, is “Practice. Practice. Practice.”

And it is similar with writing. If you want to write work that is transformative, you must practice. You must journal, you must experiment with poems, scenes, reflections, and whatever else comes to your mind, and you must do it often. You must train your writing muscles, and you must advertise your availability to the muse.

I can only imagine how many hours a day Martina Filjak must practice in order to gleam diamond-like on the stage for that half hour. Six? More? I don’t know. But practice she must, and so must we.

WIY: If you aren’t writing daily, start. Spend at least ten to fifteen minutes every day playing with language. Try writing down scraps of conversations you’ve overheard. Look out your window and describe what you see. Listen to some classical music and let it take you to an alternate reality. Don’t worry about whether or not your writing is any good. You’re just practicing.

To see a video of Martina Filjak, go to this link on youtube:

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