Sunday, October 29, 2006

Musical interlude


I was supposed to go to a Hallowe’en party tonight. Two, actually. I had every intention of going, despite the rain, and had even assembled my outfit for the evening.

Instead, I got lost in a documentary about Glenn Gould.

It wasn’t an especially good film, but I’m a sucker for interviews with people I find interesting. Better yet, it featured Gould’s rendition of one of my favourite pieces of music: Bach’s Art of the Fugue, the composer’s last work.

It must have been the combination of hearing the piece, listening to Gould rhapsodize about music, and seeing the beautifully faded shots of Toronto in the 1970s that inspired my nostalgia. In any case, I was seized with the desire to play, which has been absent for quite some time.

Long enough, in fact, that I haven’t played a note of music since I moved into my current apartment. Truth be told, I haven’t played any classical music since I moved into my first apartment.

After the film ended, I opened my hall closet and found the keyboard I used for live shows, stashed in the farthest corner underneath the third floor stairs. A few minutes later, I had it set up on the coffee table with the operating system and my best piano sample loaded.

I let my fingers rest on the keys without depressing them and paused. Instantly, there was fear. What if it was gone? What if I had lost the ability to play?

To reassure myself, I started with a few scales. Okay, I still know my scales. Then, some chords. I remember the inversions, good. Then, noodling, I tried to recall an actual piece of music.

For the life of me, I couldn’t think of any.

Worried, I noodled my way to G minor, which felt nice. I’ve always liked G minor. Then, the interval that brought it back: a perfect fourth. With just those two notes, D to G, my hands remembered a short piece by Tchaikovsky, which I played in its entirety.

I’m sure it had been twenty years since I last played it.

Mind, I didn’t play the piece especially well. The phrasing was off, and the sixteenth notes were timid at best. But my physical memory of the piece was intact, which astonished me. It was all in the hands, this memory, and, I suppose, in the ear. If I thought consciously about what I was playing, I fucked it up.

There’s a lesson in that.

Emboldened, I found some books of sheet music and opened one of them to a random page. This was harder than playing from memory, but slowly, I found the notes, and through them, the general contours of the piece. Yes, with a little practice, I could read music again. I was elated.

Before I knew it, two full hours had passed. I decided to skip the parties.

I’m reasonably certain that I won’t take up classical music again. To be good, truly good, you have to be obsessively, even fanatically committed to it, as Gould was. In this sense, it’s not unlike ballet, or gymnastics, or chess: it’s a singular commitment, which is why I stopped doing it.

Still, I like that my hands remember.

1 comment:

bob said...

I went through 9 years of Royal Conservatory, did very well on my exams, and now I can't play a damn thing. Sad.