Right now I ought to be practicing. At least that’s what I’m thinking most of the time that I’m doing something else. That’s the life and curse of being a musician. Practicing is always hanging in the background, like that angel/devil hanging on your shoulders; only they’re both telling me to practice. Ever since I was a little kid taking piano lessons (which I begged for, by the way!), I have been nagged to practice. I assume that my Mom nagged me because she wanted to be sure she was getting her money’s worth, since money wasn’t growing in the backyard in those days. I don’t really think I needed to be nagged at that time. I loved the piano. I loved playing, I loved practicing, I loved the sound the piano made, I loved making my clumsy fingers find the right notes, I loved finally managing to play a piece with hardly any mistakes, and I adored the music I got to play. Especially when I started playing Mozart and Bach and all those heavy dudes. The whole experience was magical. There were things I loved less, like scales and arpeggios, studies by Czerny, learning to play by heart (something I never excelled at); but as I learned to play the piano, my love for music grew.
I started to play the trombone when I was fourteen and in grade nine. I still took piano lessons, and I was at a pretty decent level by then, but things were getting “serious”. I grew out of my old teacher and felt I needed a new one, one that would challenge me more. What I ended up with was a teacher who scared the living bejesus out of me and ended up sucking up my love for the piano and making me realize I would never amount to anything as a pianist. I quit after one year. I continued on the trombone— a much easier instrument, to be honest. My first week of playing the trombone we learned one note: the “f” (or “fa” in the French system) which lands on the fourth line of the bass clef. I thought this was a hoot. ONE note?? We gradually added all the rest of them so we could play scales and music and stuff, but we never had to play more than one note at a time. This was a piece of cake to someone who had been struggling to play Bach Three-part Inventions. This was more like it!
As I got better at playing trombone, I got a private teacher, then another one, then another one. Guess what? They all nagged me to practice! Pretty soon, they didn’t need to anymore because I was doing quite a bit of nagging myself, a lot of which I ignored, sadly. Despite the level of nagging I’ve received from others and myself over the course of my 45 years of playing instruments, I’ve rarely practiced sufficiently to feel, like, “ah, okay, that’s it , that’s enough”. I’m not that excited about practicing anymore and often I would rather do other things, so now I’m not sure I’ll ever again have that satisfied feeling of having practiced “enough”. That’s such a vague analysis anyway. It’s a common question asked of professionals by lay people. How much do we practice? Why does anybody care? Is there an amount that’s sufficiently impressive? The number of hours a day varies immensely from person to person. The end. No more discussion. Practicing is private. It’s done by oneself. When you become a professional nobody else is asking, “hey, have you practiced enough today?” You have to decide that yourself and then live with the consequences, good or bad.
I’m going back to my horn now and I’m going to play some music. For fun, for free. Not because I’ve nagged myself or because somebody else nagged me. Just because I want to. Then I’m going to watch the total lunar eclipse, to cap off a beautiful night. On top of it, I’ve written a blog post for the Tranquil Garden. Happy fall gardening!
For your own amusement, a bit from Jimmy Fallon. Scarlett Johansson trying to play the trombone.