Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Numbering Our Days

Teach us to number our days,
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

~Psalm 90:12

Today is the birthday of Neva Jane White, the piano teacher I've written about before. It's hard to let it go by without at least a quick sharing of a couple of memories that came to me this morning.

This is a piece I learned in my first year with her.

She was the first teacher, as I recall, that had me write numbers in each measure. It made so much sense, because once I got out of the teaching method books, measure numbers weren't marked in any way. I don't remember if an earlier teacher had marked them herself or if we just referred to "the top line on the secong page, that third measure there....."

I just remember that Mrs. White had me write in the numbers of every new piece I got, and although it took me some time at the begining, it saved a lot of time as we worked on the piece.

Obviously, measure seven here needed a little help with the left-hand fingering.

Thinking about measure numbers today made me think about the verse written above, from the psalms. Some versions actually say "teach us to measure our days," though it seems most say "number." Either way, it connected to the idea of numbering my measures.

And I just love this warning she put on the top of page three (photo below). It comes after two pages of essentially the same rhythms played out in many different harmonic combinations, then a measure of four quintuplets leading up to this completely different section with new rhythm patterns, new harmonies, a new pedaling pattern--essentially, a big change in the piece where new energy comes in and the sound brightens, leading to a climax about halfway down the page.

And here, I had a tendency to rush. Of course! All that newness, so many things to think about, and knowing that even bigger stuff lay just ahead. Adrenalin was probably building in my brain and body, if we could have measured it. I'm sure the measure of quintuplets had a way of distracting me from the original tempo, too.

So, "don't rush." I've found it's excellent advice for just about every new situation in life.

Because whether you rush or not, you are going to get to the end. (I laughed when I saw I had put an exclamation point after that 50--down in the next photo. Maybe this was the first piece she ever had me write measure numbers in?)

Self-control is highly underrated, it seems, in the society I see and hear all around me. One of the many things playing and singing music has done for me, is that is simply taught me self-control. I was a child who always loved to play piano, so I don't have the kinds of stories some would about being forced to sit and practice when they wanted to be out playing football. But even though I loved it, it still took self-control to put it before other things I loved when that was needed. And the focus required to stay on task with a new (harder) piece, rather than just playing anything and everything, took self-control. Everything about it took, and takes, self-control.

In a culture that is all about rushing into the next thing, switching focus from one distraction to another, and "following your passions," I'm thankful for a teacher and an activity that taught me to slow down, to do the same thing over and over, to really think things through (how does this measure fit with the one before it? what tempo can I sustain throughout this entire piece? how will I refrain from my tendency to start this piece too quickly? which of these two fingerings works best for me to get from this section to the next? how do I really want this to sound in the end? etc.)

Mrs. White, in all the years I knew her, never seemed to be in a hurry. Even when she was running behind schedule and putting on her makeup while I was there at her house after a lesson, she was calm and gentle and thoughtful of my presence, not letting her mind rush on to the next thing and allowing the future to take over the present.

I want to live that way. There are wonderful measures like the one below, with fortissimos and sforzandos, and they can be wonderfully passionate and exciting. But they lose their meaning without the careful tempos and fingerings that get you to that point. And if the whole piece is played fast and loud, then this kind of ending is meaningless.

The other memory that came to me this morning was when my chorus had begun working on Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna." I took a recording of it to her house, along with the score. Just before I hit "play" on her CD player, I said, "I really think you're going to love this."

And in that first very long measure, as a single note began by the strings in octaves so far apart, barely, barely hear-able, just going on and on, she said,  very quietly and gently, "I already do."

She knew how to number measures, how to make and hear beautiful music, and she taught me how to number my days. I hope to grow into the heart of wisdom she possessed.

May light eternal shine upon her.

1 comment:

Robert Ritter said...

Yes — to all of this.