Pain has been a constant companion of mine for at least fifteen years. It’s not excruciating as a rule, but it can be. It is constant though, except for an occasional rare moment when the planets are in perfect alignment or something. I’m pretty sure it’s something I did to myself; the professional opinion is that is was triggered by a minor car accident. Wherever it came from, however it descended upon me, it’s here. The weird thing about it is that, if by some miracle it were to just disappear, I think I’d miss it. Isn’t that bizarre? There’s a saying, something about the devil we know being preferable to the one we don’t.
I’m not sure how it happened. One day I was teaching piano in a studio, glorified babysitting for the most part. The next I was married, working a blue collar job in an AT&T factory, then taking a programming class, and then working as a programmer. All the while, still playing the piano for the small church where my husband and I were married. Then we moved, I took a better paying position, sold my baby grand to buy a house because our first child was on the way. And the music started to fade into the background. The harder I worked, the better I became at my new chosen professional, the more the music faded until, one day, it just left. And the pain started. Actually I think the music just moved into a spare room and decided to wait until I found my way back to it.
Last October I played in a recital for the first time since college. One piece. Rachmaninoff Prelude in C# minor, “The Bells of Moscow”. It’s a chestnut, a war horse, everyone plays it at one time or another, and I’d been scared of it since forever. But the two of us, the music and me, sat down together and started listening to each other. And we came to an understanding.
There were plans to put an entire recital together, from Baroque to Billy Joel, but the pain got in the way. And now, I’m learning to walk again, with my fingers on a keyboard, with my crutches and stiff, swollen knee. I’m going to fall down, more than once, but I have to get back up. I don’t have a choice.
During my freshman year of college I had a music theory professor who broke his leg. He came into class on a Monday morning, in a cast, on crutches, and began to lecture on intervals and ear training, learning to recognize intervals by listening to them and not by playing them on a piano. And he said, as he leaned on the old grand piano in the theory classroom, “Do not use the piano as a crutch.” The room burst into laughter as he realized what he’d said and the context surrounding his comment.
My piano will be my crutch, and I will not be convinced otherwise.