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Topic: 58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?  (Read 2069 times)

Offline rustleofspring

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58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?
on: October 30, 2016, 05:58:12 PM
BACKGROUND
I have been playing the piano since I was 13. I was always drawn to the flashier end of the repertoire, light classics and popular music, and being an able sight-reader and improviser, when I left college I supplemented my income by playing in bars and restaurants. I continued to do this for 30 years, long after I actually needed the money. It wrought havoc on my technique, but I enjoyed it.

When I stopped working full time a couple of years ago, I took up the piano seriously again. I practised properly, including plenty of technical work, and learnt some pieces I had always dreamed of playing - a Chopin nocturne and a couple of studies, a couple of Rachmaninov preludes, a couple of simple Liszt song transcriptions. I decided it would be good to memorise my pieces, which - at great labour - I did. I was fairly pleased with my results, but I could not get any of the pieces to ‘performance’ level. Not that I wish particularly to perform, nor have any platform on which to do so.

I live in a small, relatively unmusical city in South West England. I discovered a good teacher about 50 miles away, but he travels constantly and is rarely available to give lessons. To my amazement I found a capable teacher, a young Russian woman, within walking distance of where I live, but she seems too busy teaching hordes of young children, and gently dropped me.

I decided to set myself a challenge, learning (and memorising) Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise and Rhapsody in Blue (solo version). For me they are extremely challenging, but I believe I have it in me to play them adequately (and at conservative speeds). I got as far as I could, then one day about four months ago, stopped playing altogether.

THE DILEMMA

Although recitals and concerts in my area are few and far between, I listen all the time to great pianists, from Lipatti to Horowitz to Hough. Only today I listened to the lovely new Tchaikovsky CD by Alexandra Dariescu (First Concerto plus Pletnev transcription of the Nutcracker Suite).

I love piano music, and I like the feeling of playing - being inside the music. I don't choose to have much of a social life (overdid it in the past) but I very occasionally play to friends, and enjoy it when I do. Of course they don’t mind what I play - they are very happy with ‘Blue Moon’.

So what is the point of a pianist (of my ability) spending hours and hours labouring away at music which effectively he is the only one who will enjoy? And his enjoyment of it marred by the fact that it will never be as good as what he can listen to a professional doing the job much betterat the flick of a switch?

I know the pianistic repertoire pretty well, and I’ve more or less learnt all the pieces that attract me which are within my technical ability. Occasionally I come across something that escaped my notice (for example Fauré’s ‘Chanson sans Paroles’) and I jump straight on it. But there isn't much out there that I'm burning to play, and think I could manage.

Obviously, an inspiring teacher would help, and take my playing up a level. Even if I could find another  one - and boy, have I tried -  I am still faced with the question - why am I doing this? What am I trying to prove to myself - or anyone else? Would I be better off spending my time doing something different (writing a novel, learning a language, reading Dickens)?

i wondered if anyone else on the forum had faced this sort of ‘crisis’ and overcome it, either by discovering a new motivation, or by effectively ‘retiring’ from the instrument, and devoting those hours to listening, rather than playing.

Thank you in advance for any advice/sharing of experiences.
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Offline ted

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Re: 58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?
Reply #1 on: October 30, 2016, 08:37:33 PM
I wondered if anyone else on the forum had faced this sort of ‘crisis’ and overcome it, either by discovering a new motivation, or by effectively ‘retiring’ from the instrument, and devoting those hours to listening, rather than playing.

I don't want to expand about myself on the forum, I can do that in private messages if you like, but we have a great deal in common. I am now sixty-nine, retired for eight years, and still utterly and completely satisfactorily obsessed with piano music. I do play those two pieces you mention, and have done so for over fifty years, but other people here are probably better equipped to provide technical help with them.


Had you thought at all about personal improvisation and the recording of it ? As you have a history of semi-professional improvisation, you are not likely to have the terrible psychological blocks most pianists have with spontaneous creation. It would be only a small step for you from improvising on set structures to creating your own musical universe from scratch and recording it. I have found the mental rewards of doing this to be truly immense. Furthermore, as you say you do not care for performance or impressing people, you sound ideally suited to it.

You can still learn pieces and do the conventional stuff of course, they are not mutually exclusive. I happen to like ragtime, swing and stride, so my repertoire of those is somewhat larger than the few classical pieces I play, but preferred idiom does not matter in the slightest.  

I have sent you a personal message.

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

Offline dogperson

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Re: 58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?
Reply #2 on: October 30, 2016, 09:17:29 PM
Really, it is difficult as an adult without performance opportunities to not have the attitude of 'what's the point'.   I have NO performance opportunities but what keeps me going is making the best music possible with my own two hands....  I listen to recordings and think 'I want to play THAT, and play it that well'   I get a great deal of personal satisfaction from the small victories in reaching that personal goal.  

Maybe you need to explore improvisation, maybe a different genre, maybe a different composer-- until you find what motivates you to learn with the only reward in your own two hands... and your heart. Is your goal performance level, even if not performed?   I would suggest a teacher to help you get there.  You mention Rhapsody in Blue (one of my all time favorites).  Get a teacher and see if you can progress from where you are now.   Improvement is  motivating.  

For me,  I can't perceive of trading the piano for learning a foreign language or reading a book, but you need to spend time exploring so that you can reach that very personal decision.

Offline indianajo

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Re: 58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?
Reply #3 on: October 30, 2016, 10:20:11 PM

So what is the point of a pianist (of my ability) spending hours and hours labouring away at music which effectively he is the only one who will enjoy? And his enjoyment of it marred by the fact that it will never be as good as what he can listen to a professional doing the job much betterat the flick of a switch?

Nobody cares what I do.  I have some minor performance opportunities where about 7 fans listen to hymns out of the book, 5 or 6 a Sunday, or cooks and patrons at a weekly charity dinner listen to what I deliver of sacred and pop literature.  My applause at the latter has been for "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Blue Christmas" which of course are not at all demanding, but what the patrons want to hear.  My home church has made it very clear, they don't want to hear anything as complicated as George Winston's arrangement of "the Holly and the Ivy" ever again.  The charity dinner people are going to get Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies this year whether they like it or not.  I like it better on Hammond H100 organ, but the piano is down there on the stage and that is what they are going to hear.  
But I enjoy music, especially complicated and intricate things.  I and my family are big do-it-yourselfers.  At age 66 I'll never build a house as my Grandfather and brother did, or build an apartment development as my brother is doing with his construction crew and fleet.  They can't and I can get through 28 pages of "Pictures at an Exhibition" with under a dozen mistakes, and nowadays, not the same ones over and over again.  30 years and counting, I'll do it perfectlyly some day, and it certainly doesn't sound like anyone else ever recorded it.  
I don't have a teacher, but I did have extensive grounding in most of the physical tricks of playing piano age 8 to 16, grinding through Edna Mae Berman exercises, and later Czerny School of Velocity.  There is not much I can't do slowly, and if I repeat anything enough times, I can then crank up the speed.  My limit is about 2/3 the speed of Rudolf Serkin at his best in 1958- but the interpretation is mine, not his.  
One advantage of piano over landscape painting, for example, is that piano is physical, exercises the heart some and burns off calories after dinner.  I love to eat, and being late onset diabetic, it is important to flush the excess carbs quickly.  My A1C (sugar) is under control, I  have lost 50 lb in the last 8 years and have beautifiul music to credit in part for it.  
Maybe my desires are more than yours, but I have a list of 400 songs and pieces I want to buy and haven't yet, not in my collection (already) of 2000 LP's.  Many of those I'd like to play myself.  With the first dabbles at playing orchestral repretoire by ear up to speed, a whole world has opened up. I don't have to limit myself to the bad arrangements sold at the music store anymore.  BTW the sheet music store is dead, long live the aural recording. and the DIY arranger process.   
On the turn the switch front, I repair and now build my own amplifiers and preamplifiers. Take that, oriental designers with your planned obsolescence programs. But I find my real piano is more beautiful than any recording I can play, even with the newer $600 each (new) speakers I bought in 2010 after I retired.  
As to learning a language, well the TV now has alternate language tracks on the DVDs and I'm doing some of that too.  There is no limit to what a human can learn.  I can even  learn  people's names and many times say them when I see them, something I could never do until I retired.  Have fun retiring and learning new skills.
As far as achieving perfection, well my teacher's method was slow practice, so slowly mistakes were never made, until that speed was perfect for 5 or 10 times.   Works for me. I'm not the fastest learner, but a fairly secure one.  I'll never ace my way through a conservatory that way, but I really don't care.
BTW, Rhapsody in Blue 2 piano version is on my to do list.  Race you to see who gets there first (probably you).  The lack of a second unpaid player in this end of the state has daunted me a little, but who said we had to be practical?
Have fun with attempting and maybe achieving your goals.  

Offline debussychopin

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Re: 58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?
Reply #4 on: October 30, 2016, 10:28:06 PM
BACKGROUND
I have been playing the piano since I was 13. I was always drawn to the flashier end of the repertoire, light classics and popular music, and being an able sight-reader and improviser, when I left college I supplemented my income by playing in bars and restaurants. I continued to do this for 30 years, long after I actually needed the money. It wrought havoc on my technique, but I enjoyed it.

When I stopped working full time a couple of years ago, I took up the piano seriously again. I practised properly, including plenty of technical work, and learnt some pieces I had always dreamed of playing - a Chopin nocturne and a couple of studies, a couple of Rachmaninov preludes, a couple of simple Liszt song transcriptions. I decided it would be good to memorise my pieces, which - at great labour - I did. I was fairly pleased with my results, but I could not get any of the pieces to ‘performance’ level. Not that I wish particularly to perform, nor have any platform on which to do so.

I live in a small, relatively unmusical city in South West England. I discovered a good teacher about 50 miles away, but he travels constantly and is rarely available to give lessons. To my amazement I found a capable teacher, a young Russian woman, within walking distance of where I live, but she seems too busy teaching hordes of young children, and gently dropped me.

I decided to set myself a challenge, learning (and memorising) Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise and Rhapsody in Blue (solo version). For me they are extremely challenging, but I believe I have it in me to play them adequately (and at conservative speeds). I got as far as I could, then one day about four months ago, stopped playing altogether.

THE DILEMMA

Although recitals and concerts in my area are few and far between, I listen all the time to great pianists, from Lipatti to Horowitz to Hough. Only today I listened to the lovely new Tchaikovsky CD by Alexandra Dariescu (First Concerto plus Pletnev transcription of the Nutcracker Suite).

I love piano music, and I like the feeling of playing - being inside the music. I don't choose to have much of a social life (overdid it in the past) but I very occasionally play to friends, and enjoy it when I do. Of course they don’t mind what I play - they are very happy with ‘Blue Moon’.

So what is the point of a pianist (of my ability) spending hours and hours labouring away at music which effectively he is the only one who will enjoy? And his enjoyment of it marred by the fact that it will never be as good as what he can listen to a professional doing the job much betterat the flick of a switch?

I know the pianistic repertoire pretty well, and I’ve more or less learnt all the pieces that attract me which are within my technical ability. Occasionally I come across something that escaped my notice (for example Fauré’s ‘Chanson sans Paroles’) and I jump straight on it. But there isn't much out there that I'm burning to play, and think I could manage.

Obviously, an inspiring teacher would help, and take my playing up a level. Even if I could find another  one - and boy, have I tried -  I am still faced with the question - why am I doing this? What am I trying to prove to myself - or anyone else? Would I be better off spending my time doing something different (writing a novel, learning a language, reading Dickens)?

i wondered if anyone else on the forum had faced this sort of ‘crisis’ and overcome it, either by discovering a new motivation, or by effectively ‘retiring’ from the instrument, and devoting those hours to listening, rather than playing.

Thank you in advance for any advice/sharing of experiences.
I loved reading this. It is real and candid. I dont have any answers and life is frustrating at times, when you chase after lovely things. Sometimes they dont make any sense but this is why we experience life and ponder over it. I hope youll find it was all worth it and purposeful at the end so dont give up trying and trying new things and learning.
Good luck
L'Isle Joyeuse

Offline iansinclair

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Re: 58 years old and stuck - any suggestions?
Reply #5 on: October 31, 2016, 07:03:20 PM
I can agree with all the above comments -- but I would add just one thought.  Play what you love.  It doesn't have to be a concert level performance -- just something you really enjoy.  I wouldn't worry about the technical stuff -- scales and arpeggios and Hanon and other forms of misery.  If you really find some technical challenge you want to work on, and you may well, find a piece you enjoy playing or would enjoy playing and work on it that way.

And just sit back and enjoy!  At our age (I'm 74 and long retired) hopefully we can do that!
Ian
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