The devil is in the details.
Though I don’t know who thought that one up, I’ve got to agree, because if there’s anything I don’t have the patience for, it’s the bloody details. If you ask me, the details will get me every time.
Of course, I’m not talking about the kind of details that make up a dish in a recipe. I can cook just about anything by following the detail of ingredients in a recipe, right down to the dash of cayenne or pinch of salt, and it’ll taste just fine.
What I’m talking about are the details that make the difference between becoming a concert pianist and an adequate one. Or between becoming a world-class soprano and one whose singing is best confined to the shower. These details–the discipline and dedication it takes to shine–have always been out of my reach simply because I lack the patience and wherewithal.
To think, I once had dreams of being the very best at these things. But then life got in the way and by life I mean, those pesky little details that created a wall between me and that which I desired. To be great at something you have to put in the time, and putting in the time was something I’ve always been good at avoiding.
Even writing the great American novel seemed daunting to me once I learned that in order to write it, I’d first have to outline the chapters and develop the characters, keeping careful track of their comings and goings so as not to mix them up. Are you kidding me? Too. Much. Trouble!
Frankly, I’d rather leave the details to someone else. Let someone else figure out how to write like J.K. Rowling, sing like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa or tickle the ivories like Leonard Bernstein.
To me, the details can be, ahem, tedious and, would you believe, detrimental to my health? Hmm, I thought not.
Which brings me to my piano lessons.
Not too long ago I decided to sign up for piano lessons, after a lapse of 30 or so years. My love for the piano was calling me back and so I bought myself the best keyboard I could afford and began taking lessons from a woman who was once my daughter’s piano teacher. She agreed to teach me, no questions asked.
But here’s what I didn’t count on: This teacher actually expects me to play the notes correctly. And before you say anything, I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking, “Monica, that’s crazy talk. Of course your teacher is going to expect you to learn and follow the proper rules of playing piano so that the music sounds exactly as it is supposed to sound and not the way you, Monica Medina, want it to sound.”
In other words, my teacher was not going to allow me to cut corners in my piano education (as my high school piano teacher once had, but that’s a different story).
Since signing up for lessons in November, here’s what I’ve learned from my teacher:
I must use the correct finger position as delineated in my music books. I must remember to play staccato on the right hand and hold the notes on the left hand, if directed to do so. I must follow the beat of the metronome and not play any faster or slower, simply because I want to, or feel that I know the piece well enough.
And I must repeat a measure over and over until I am absolutely familiar with it and can play it perfectly, before moving on—no matter how frustrated that makes me. (Trust me. I can get incredibly frustrated.) But here’s the thing:
I really, really, really, REALLY want to get good at this!
Which means I MUST learn all these (annoying) details. I must work on being patient and not have grandiose dreams of playing magnificently overnight.
I’m determined to master the piano. If that means opening myself to everything my instructor teaches me, then so be it.
There have been moments when I’ve been ready to give up. At my age, who needs this? But then I realize, I do. This discipline is good for me.
So I need my teacher to be exactly as she is, letting me know which notes I’m playing wrong and what I can improve on. After all, she says that one day, with enough practice, I may get to perform in a recital.
And frankly, the idea of it thrills me and terrifies me all at once.