(Not quite — but I’m getting there.)
6/12/2016 — The building is cold. My shoes are a bit too big for me, suddenly the seat doesn’t let my feet touch the ground. I play anyway, for the first time. All my worries dissipate. The night is cool and breezy; you watch me, you are there for me. I have learned.
An étude is defined as a short piece – a musical one, that is. Short, precise, beaming of complexity in its brief measures. Needless to say, I am far from that skill level. Incredulously far, in fact. However, on the twelfth of June I played my own self-made étude, a piece I’ve been working on for the past month or so, attempting to perfect or get it just right. It was such a small concert with the instrumental portion only spanning about an hour, people around my age and ones much younger taking a stage far too large one by one.
It was staged at Insular Life Auditorium in Alabang, Muntinlupa. The place was far nicer than what I was expecting for such a small congregate of children and kids who are desperately trying to catch up with those who started years earlier (ie: me). It was just a simple end-of-summer workshop to make parents happy and give them an opportunity to post pictures of their children dressed up so they could look productive for the summer. That was essentially it, and it isn’t anything special — but it was to me. I played a single, very short piece by Dmitri Kabalevsky, who’s name will now forever echo in my mind. No matter what tirades I’d go through, it will forever be rooted as my very first public piece; the solidarity and solemn hush of the air conditioning, the creaking of the breaking wooden chair and the old grand piano between my piano teacher and I broken.
I don’t have much to say — in all honesty. It was a very short piece – intended for about a minute and a half of playing, but with how slow I went — it probably revolved around two minutes. The piece wasn’t mine to choose, it was handed to me by my instructor but there were no complaints over it. At first, it sounded beautiful by the way my teacher gracefully showed me how to play it, and in that instant I was set on trying to replicate it yet twist it around to my own interpretation – my own rendition. My fingers would get used to my vision of how I wanted it to sound; my long pauses and the heavy differences in volume and structure. Perhaps it wasn’t the way the original composer intended it to be – but I made it my own. A single piece, yet a month of nervousness and attempting to shoot for perfection only to be met with a trifecta more of imperfections that I had to correct.
But in the end; for a first concert it was very thrilling. Maybe I am ten years too late – perhaps even twelve, but I did it. I made it. And it felt exhilarating and a thousand thoughts ran through my head even though it was so simple and minimalistic. Let my thoughts flow as free as the notes and my emotions did on that day. I will not play the piece for you but instead, walk you through the workings and echoes of the wooden pillars and the creaky polished walkways, my journey through sound-proofed cubicles to messy fourth floor studios in disheveled buildings to red dresses and silverlight.
i. A true etude — Upon first seeing the piece, I was on my third week of lessons and it seemed somewhat simple yet phased me. I am no prodigy, and the moment my teacher presented it to me a bunch of different areas seemed frightening for me to play (namely the third variation of my piece) yet some melodies just seemed so beautiful – I had to get them right, such as the third variation. I managed to get the first part right (well — of course, it’s dauntingly simple but I attribute it to my unfamiliarity with reading notes and how disgracefully slow I get at times) and when we attempted the second portion, I kept forgetting bits and pieces. My fingers were shaking, and I was nervous because mistakes were the bane of me and even if it were a regular part of growth as a pianist, something that absolutely everyone would go through countless times in those few-hour sessions, I still remained fearful of it. Distinct memories of me leaving the room, tugging on car doors on the ride home and unabashedly racing towards the cheap little keyboard that stills itself in the corner of the living room. Until the moon rose and shone, until my fingers memorized each step and jump and slur, I repeated it over and over and never got tired of the same notes and off-keys and mistakes at all. That night, after non-stop playing, I managed to get everything up to the third variation right and that was a huge achievement for me. Looking back on it makes me really happy, the determination within was thriving and as silly as it may sound or as simple as the piece could be — it was daunting to me.
ii. Thinking back, my eyes barely remember the place itself. Audience — pure black, stage so large and far away yet it felt like my footsteps creaked and echoed throughout the auditorium. Lights far too bright, lights that my eyes hadn’t adjusted to yet had faded away just as quickly. Walking towards the center of the stage and knowing that for a single moment in the history of the world, all eyes were centered on me, darting back to glowing lights or murmuring chatter and whispers. Orchestrated bows did not relieve me of tension yet helped unveil the soul behind the red silk. My heels had strained gold and my eyes darted to the ground – the only place that reigned of familiarity.
No matter how familiar I am with the piano, my innocence and sonder replaced with feign remembrance, in love with it the keys will be an autopsy, dissected and repieced with every staff bowing down to melodies and in my head it will be an endless fortissimo — there will always be a part of me that goes back to the confused girl, feet that can’t even touch the bottom, discouraged because ‘you won’t practice enough, you’re going to give up after a few months’ repeating over and over no matter how many times tears have hit the black keys and how you pounce upon the scales. I’ll always go back to the freezing at the keys, the darkness that looms against me and the familiar feeling of being small, enveloped by cold air and the way they design the walls to reflect sound and bounce it back until it penetrates my calluses.
However, the moment my fingers press on the keys, it’s like warmth flowing in on me a thousand times over. This is safety, this is the warm embrace of music, the strings pumping itself over and over in the background, the openness and the rhythm in the air. Suddenly I am brought back to late three o’ clock nights over the keyboard, playing as silently as I can, fluttering over the keys so much that in soft bounces I hear the clicking of the keyboard more than the melody itself. I am brought back to the small music room with the brown piano and the warm floor, the air conditioner at the bottom and breezing my legs but not much else. In the grandeur of it all I am reminded of my roots; I forget all the people and in this moment it is only me, the sound, the reason. What I play for, who I play for, the music and how it rings — reaching within anyone. Music disseminates my fear and lets it thrive unto the ringing of the room, reverberating into hearts and minds, touching, forgettable, whatever they would make it out to be. In this moment, the music is infinity.
iii. One early school morning – just a few days after getting back into the usual routine, after my concert as well; I remember it clearly. My friend approached the dusting piano in the second floor entrance – towards the school’s performing arts center. No one knows about it but it reminds me of the exact piano I use in the backroom of my music lesson place, though more aged. Some of its keys have stopped working, lack of care, neglect, it’s out of tune as well. But in an instant he pressed a few keys and then began playing the beginning of Étude No 12 in C minor, Op 10 — Chopin’s Revolutionary Étude and everything suddenly stopped. I recognize that song and it’s one that I wish to learn one day, and I know it won’t be one day soon but I swear that I will get to that point. In that moment I realized that so many people hold an array of music that we had never seen.
iv. It’s so beautiful to think that despite of it all, how humanity is so fragile and careless — how we fall in love with death and give up on life and arm ourselves with deathmakers and pacemakers as we struggle to find a balance between the world — we create music. We hum our dreams and wishes in little short gaps between our breathing, our voices are melodic singsong tunes that speak of the beginning dawning until the end. There is a certain kind of magic in the way we never let our words spill out directly, we place them in metaphors and in notes that reach so far out of the staff, we pace ourselves in chiming punctuation marks and enclose our afterthoughts in parenthesis after parenthesis, we conjure our life stories in pedals and sharps.
I am so glad that I live in a world where music is our weapon, that the piano is an instrument that we bow to and use to speak to the rest of the waking world. Sometimes, I feel like the world was born in song and at the very end of it we will collapse yet repeat, time and time again. This is why we are so familiar and gaze upon notes that fall in line the way we’d expect them to – but ultimately they are so distinct, no two lives will ever play out the same. We will never sing the songs the way we first did and our fingers will never caress the keys the way they did the first time; yet the music and the emotions will always flood through, we will drown in the sound and find ourselves in it as we lose ourselves against the rest of the world.
Humanity has failed in so many ways. Humanity has given us suffering, torment, lies, deceit, pain, and torture – but humanity has also given us the gift of song, of hope and melody, of the piano and the violin and orchestras and the way we uplift ourselves with serene patterns and vibrations. We are repairing this world, aren’t we? Piece by piece, singsong child to frustrated lone composer; music is an emotion that lurks over the world again and again. We will find ourselves, we will find all the meanings.
v. Apparently, I had been pronouncing Frédéric Chopin wrong all this time. It’s okay though. Now I know how to pronounce it, and I can sound cool while doing so since I am actually saying it right.
vi. I want to get better. With every beat, with every piece; to get my emotions across, to relearn the word passion and to be one with the songs that I speak so highly about. My teacher told me that she didn’t want to just make me an amazing player, she told me that she wanted me to become a perfect one. So my hands are more familiar with the keys than they are with the pen, I pound on them and they still shake and are unstable but I am trying so hard to get the form right, to play with the correct tempo and to speed up, I know I am afraid but I will learn from those mistakes. And of course the words ring with ardent fervor in my mind yet it never really brings itself upon me, nothing really pushes it towards me but I will, someday. In all honesty; there is such a long path ahead of me, there are always people who remind me of what could have been if I went ahead and started it earlier but sometimes the pieces of the world condemn me to retort, “and if I never picked it up?”
vii. Sometimes it feels so shallow of me to talk about an instrument that I am not even prestigiously good at, there is no revere for a child dabbling in something that she deems to be in love with yet doesn’t give all her time to. But you see, there is nothing that gets in the way with a teenager who is trying so hard for one thing, there is nothing that gets in the way with someone who is flooding with passion and want that has been bubbling and contained, suppressed by disbelief and blame. I myself do not know if this will continue on for a long time, if I would have enough time or if my lessons would have to stop by the time my senior year ends.
Just know that there is a passion that is undying, that even if my hands do not remember much but the muscle memory ingrained into me, the very first variations on a Russian Folksong from the twelfth of June on a rainy Sunday evening, to the way my red dress paved a path and how for once I sort of like how I looked and moreso the way the piano was right in front of me and how sitting down and playing made the world go away for an instant. The emotions are there, and my love for the piano and the sounds that it gives — ambient music paired with the soft patter of the keys, classical flooding the room from old boomboxes or thrift-store vinyls; this is the way a passion never truly dies. Same feelings, same desire to live and to show the world what I feel in a song that could rebound to the skies. In a closed auditorium and dim lights, I begun my first cry. Count on me to let the oceans and the fields, the mountaintops and the forestry running deep and far be aware of me: I have a song.
viii. Running mental note of pieces in my head that I absolutely have to learn one day, sooner or later, but will try to play anyway no matter how slow or terrible-sounding it is: Winter Wind, Revolutionary Etude, Clair de Lune, Love’s Sorrow; and oh – I want to find someone who could do the Sleeping Beauty duet (Tchaikovsky’s) on the piano with me. That would be nice, and this also reminds me of how badly I need to practice and the lack thereof.
ix. Today, I played my recital piece for the first time since a week ago. It was sped-up, the exact tempo that it was meant to be played – the tempo that felt right to me and the one I had practiced again and again until I abandoned it for something slower, out of fear – the slow, poised one that I had presented on the twelfth. One error — I remember. I paused for half a second too long because I couldn’t think of what chord came next and the memory was failing me, until it pumped into my veins and spine again.
This evening, it felt so right and raw. With all the emotion that I had failed to convey running through my touch-weight keyboard, not even filled with eighty-eight keys. But I leaned back, and whispered. Emotion, because that is what it is, and it is what I had done. My feelings, voyeurism and all to my audience and muse of the four walls of my family living room.
And ten, there is so much more that I want to be and there is so much time. It’s ultimately up to me to take all these fragments and make a stand for something that I truly do care about, and practice. Perhaps my teacher is going to find her own definition of perfection in me, something far from textbook – or maybe I truly will fall in line to the exact demands of each piece. Nevertheless, the emotion and the power will always remain raw and fueled. In the less than two months in which I have finally picked this instrument up, for the first time in my life after wanting to for so long — I have learned so much, about myself and of music, of the world and of the shell that we contain ourselves in.
My piece was nothing extraordinary, nor was it too memorable (it’s not particularly catchy). I was the second-to-last person to play too, but wished that I could have done it better, played with even more raw power and prowess to show them something – make them open their cheap pamphlets and trace their finger down the line until they find my name and let it roam in the back of their head and let it linger for a bit. One day I will move hearts and one day my song will pierce through more than parents who stepped out of their job for a day in order to be supportive, to people who don’t want to be there and for lost ticketholders and empty souls coming in for a thousand reasons other than the first birth of a new generation of music.
Time and time again, humanity has proven itself worthy in the music that it has produced. I will be a part of that – I will be a note in the waking, breathing world. On the twelfth of June was my birth, in a lone auditorium in the center of a bustling city with traffic and cicada patterns; and in this year I have begun to see and hear and truly feel – now it is time to let those feelings reach, to let those feelings ring, deeper, further.