I'm not sure whether what happened this evening is encouraging or depressing.
While having an exasperated rummage through a load of stuff earlier on (there are simply piles and piles and sheds and garages full of stuff here), looking for something else altogether, I happened upon my Grade VI piano exam pieces. Amongst a stack of SD#1's clarinet music, for some reason. 1975! How long ago that was! I was only a few months older than SD#1 is now.
I opened it up and set it on the piano. Only one piece seemed even remotely familiar - this one:
Still, since I had learned to play these to a proficient standard during the first year of my O-levels, and since I still occasionally sit down at the instrument - albeit mainly to accompany, in a very basic fashion, my children on their assorted fiddles, guitars, whistles and clarinets - I thought I'd see whether I could still play this . . .
The net result, unfortunately, has been ultimate recourse to my old friends in adversity - wine and chocolate!
It certainly wasn't one of those riding a bike moments - once learned, never forgotten. Although I could suddenly remember, quite vividly, sitting at my teacher's lovely Yamaha baby grand, with autumn sunlight streaming through the windows, putting my very soul into this piece. But when my hands hit the keyboard tonight, the truth was all too evident. It was gone. Completely.
I'm not an intuitive musician. How much this is owing to the way I was taught and how much because I simply don't have the right kind of brain, is something I've mused upon at great and probably unnecessary length over the years. I am reluctantly admitting these days that it's a nature thing, rather than a nurture thing. I'm just not musical. Which is a bit of a blow, frankly, because I can't imagine life without music.
On the nurture side of things, I was taught by a wonderful woman - a concert pianist of great talent. And she taught me to 'perform'. Perfection was her aim and I did my best to oblige and passed exams with flying colours. But anything other than rigorous practising of the required scales and pieces was frowned upon. 'Stop fiddling about and get on with your proper practice', my parents would call out when they heard me, well . . . 'fiddling around', I suppose: improvising, experimenting, exploring the notes on my own terms. So I knuckled under and passed exams but my relationship with the instrument was, I see in retrospect, a very limited one to say the least. And this is why I could (can) never play without music, never jam or improvise, never really 'make music' on the piano. Which is a source of huge regret.
And so tonight's two-hour stint with my Grade VI exam book has been a strained and strange experience. There's no doubt that, by the end of it, there was a marked improvement, which I suppose is encouraging. If I could set aside an hour every day, then who knows what I could achieve. But I know I almost certainly can't (or won't) do that.
It felt like learning the piece afresh, not re-learning, or recalling it - and that I found dispiriting, despite the intervening years. I really hoped and believed that it would all come flooding back and simply happen. But my fingers, which I'd imagined would be nimble enough from all the exercise they get tapping away at high speed on computer keyboards, just wouldn't do what I needed them to do. Though by the time I finally stormed from the room they had just begun to show some small understanding of how they were required to behave.
Discouraged or encouraged? Which shall I be? I can't decide.
I'll have another square of chocolate while I think about it.
Oh dear, it all seems to have gone.
1 day ago