Playing Mozart has a way of straightening you right out. The clarity of his sonatas is bracing. No covering up mistakes by overuse of a foot pedal. He is what he is. And your playing is what it is.
Yesterday was one of those foggy, sultry days that is the hallmark of panhandle Florida winters. The pattern goes like this, usually in a seven to ten day cycle: warm and wet, then windy, then bright and cold to hover around freezing, then warming into the seventies, sultry, foggy, rain, then windy, bright and cold again. Never put away the shorts and tank tops, but keep long pants and a jacket handy, too.
I played Mozart yesterday from the late afternoon gloom until it gathered into full darkness. The big old sexy beast of a piano treated me like a spurned lover, formal and distant at first. "You don't love me anymore," it seemed to say. "You've found other toys to play with."
But it couldn't resist my earnest heavy breathing, and soon became supple under the ministrations of my wandering dilletante fingers. With Amadeus as our spirit guide, we went in search of truth.
A dark cloud of self-doubt had been hovering in that space between my eyebrows for a day or two, rumbling and threatening to storm. The cloud was like a chorus in an ancient play: "You're too old to start writing seriously; you don't have any formal study in creative writing; who are you kidding?" You probably have a voice like that too. The cloud of self-doubt tailors its negative, nagging harangue for each individual.
Mozart reminded me of the years I spent learning how to play, the hours of doing it badly, of learning all that boring technique, so that I might sit now at the keyboard at any hour of the day or night and make difficult passages look easy.
I laughed out loud remembering the former wife of a late friend of ours. She was a young woman hungry for objects to fill up the road and block passage between her poor childhood in the hills of Appalachia and her current, hard-won life of comfort if not ease. She pestered her elderly husband for a grand piano. He finally caved, and bought her one, along with a set of lessons.
She went to a few lessons. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.
Our telephone rang one day. It was her. "Learning to play the piano is taking too long. I want to play like you. What's the trick?"
"What?" I wasn't sure I had heard her right.
"Come on, what's the trick?" she said it again.
I realized she was quite serious, and so, after a moment, I said, "Well, I guess the trick is to start when you're about nine years old, take lessons for at least ten years, practice five hours a day for years on end, and then keep up with it as an adult. That's the really tricky part."
"Oh," she said. "You're not going to tell me."
Soon thereafter, she persuaded her husband to pay for surgery on the new piano, gelding a noble instrument to play compact discs of Reader's Digest-style condensed versions of music — "light classics," "pop classics," and even "light" versions of rock and roll, for God's sake.
And so, today, I'm back to writing before dawn, studying words, structure and formats during the day, and reading the Paris Review interviews into the night. We have to meet our urge for creativity wherever we are on the path, to find joy in the work of it, the sheer workmanlike mechanical action of words on paper and the metallurgical transformation that some bright morning might astonish even our indwelling critic.
Suzanne holds the mirror, while a volume of her author's work holds the pages. Let's play.