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Steve Hansen: Practice doesn’t always make perfect

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Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:00 am

“Come on, I know you can do it,” my long-time friend stated encouragingly.

The man with the resonant baritone voice had wanted me to accompany him during last week’s spring church recital.

I was reluctant to do so. Although I have played piano many years for my own enjoyment, it was not my instrument of choice as a University of the Pacific music major.

Some people have a natural ability that makes playing keyboard instruments a well-coordinated activity. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them.

“But surely it can be done,” I thought to myself. “With daily practice, the piece can’t be that difficult.

My focus in college was voice and theory, not piano. So, for the recital, I scored a musical introduction and topped the whole thing off with a finale ending on a high note. The 1960 tune, “Portrait of my Love,” was made famous by Steve Lawrence.

I also wrote some chords that my fingers were not used to playing. But I still believed that practice would make perfect.

We rehearsed it a couple of times, and once more on the day of the gig. The final dry run went flawlessly. How could anything go wrong?

There were about five musicians ahead of us on the program. Long introductions about the history and style of music by the moderator boringly filled the time between numbers. I checked my level of anxiety. It did not appear to be a problem. When our time finally came, we walked onto the stage, and everything seemed fine.

My piano introduction began. Even though I had played it on several occasions, it did not sound like what I had written. Next, I missed a chord that jumped the piece ahead of the singer. He quickly responded and covered my error. I stumbled fairly well through the rest of the piece, but my grand finale went the same way as the introduction.

I walked off the stage thoroughly disappointed.

What went wrong? Practice should have made it perfect. But most likely, several issues had occurred that sent things flying in the opposite direction.

I’ve always had anxiety over piano performances — dating back to elementary school and culminating with failing the required conservatory piano exam three different times. Yet, it was still a mystery to me as to why a rehearsal could go without a hitch and then completely fall apart on stage.

I suppose it’s all about classical conditioning and association with past events. As much as we would like these issues to disappear through positive thinking, they are not always willing to leave simply by wishing for successful outcomes.

As an example, one might want to be professional a baseball pitcher. However, practice and desire are not necessarily going to overcome personal deficiencies.

Most people at the concert told me they didn’t notice the missteps. Perhaps they were just being polite. On the other hand, there was no standing ovation either. I’m sure some of the other experienced pianists were wondering whether or not I had just completed “John Thompson’s Book One” on basic piano instructions.

My friend was most gracious about everything and still seemed to enjoy the event. But despite his empathic understanding, all I could think about was Clint Eastwood’s famous quote from the movie “Magnum Force.”

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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