Thursday, September 11, 2008
Tickling the ivories
In my other life I am a pianist. It's what I went to college for, went into debt for, haha, and came out with a degree in. It's what I used to do full-time -- as a church pianist, as a piano teacher, as a Kindermusik instructor, as a choir accompanist, as "The Wedding Player" (my mantra up until a couple of years ago was "always a pianist, never a bridesmaid", instead of the old adage "always a bridesmaid, never a bride"), and as a music store director of education. This other life used to be my main life, and everything revolved around the 88 black and white keys that were a part of my every day existence. In fact, people that knew me in this other life, they only knew me as "Valerie, the pianist". Now, notsomuch. Today my main focus is on being a wife, a mother, a cook, a maid, a chauffeur, a seamstress, a blogger, and a human being. My new title is "Valerie, _____'s mom". Most of the people that know me today have rarely seen me as a pianist, and many of them might not even know that I play the piano. Yep, life has definitely changed over the last 7 or 8 years. And those 88 keys occasionally find a moment to fit in my new life, but I'm sad to say they have been relegated to being played maybe once a week, sometimes once a month. Sad, but true.
This week I was able to find a balance to bring the keys back into my life, if only in a small way. It's been nine months since I last worked part-time as a pianist, and I'm glad I've found my way back into playing. Our city has a pretty fantastic ballet company, and over the last four years, I have worked part-time, on and off, as a ballet accompanist. Ballet accompaniment was a whole new ballgame to me when I first heard of it four years ago. I'd done lots of different types of accompanying in my years, but I'd never done anything like this. When I first started, I was completely out of my element, and the challenges from ballet accompaniment were overwhelming to me. After training for a few months, I was supposed to enjoy a "gentle introduction" -- the plan was to start out playing for the Level 1 students and work my way up, but instead my first experience was quite the opposite -- thrown to the wolves, in a sense, by accompanying the Level 5 classes, taking my instruction from a French man flown over from across the pond to teach, a man who knew no English paired with me who spoke no French (oh Jacques, I will never forget you), and even playing for the company dancer's rehearsals many a time. Playing for the professionals rattled my cage the most, and after an hour and a half at a time of my nerves being shot through the roof, I always enjoyed the sense of peace and relief at having survived successfully through another rehearsal wash sweetly over me. Although these were each completely terrifying experiences for a beginner like me, they did give me experience much more quickly, and over time I was able to feel somewhat comfortable as a ballet accompanist. Life changed drastically for me in the four years since those first experiences, with the arrival of my son and my newfound role of mother, and my hours of ballet accompaniment had to take a backseat to my new roles, shrinking to less and less hours at the ballet as motherhood soon took over. But I'm happy to say that after four years, I feel I've finally found a most comfortable nook in the ballet accompaniment world, one that fits into my new life as a mother, and that is in playing for their public school program.
Our ballet company has a program in conjunction with our city's public elementary schools where they offer a six-week introduction to classical ballet. The kids attend 45-minute long classes once a week and learn the fundamentals of ballet. These classes are taught by professionals, have live accompaniment (that would be me), the participating students get to wear leotards (girls) and ballet t-shirts and shorts (boys), and at the end they get tickets to attend a performance by the company. For the last class of the six weeks, their parents/guardians are invited to come and watch, sort of like a recital.
I love this program. Many of the kids who participate would never have the chance to take ballet were it not for this program. It is so fun to see the joy on their faces when they walk in, excited to be wearing a dance leotard (also a first for many of them), excited to be doing real ballet moves in a real live ballet studio, and even excited about having me, over in the corner, willing and able to play music at the drop of a hat for them to move to. I love watching their little facial expressions, watching them studying themselves in the huge mirrors covering one wall of the studio. (If you've never seen a little kid watch their own reflection in a mirror for more than five minutes at a time, you're missing out. It is hilarious.) I love it, when towards the end of a class, they each get a turn to fly diagonally across the floor all by themselves ("run, run, leap!", "run, run leap!"). You can tell some of them really get into it and feel as if they are some famous dancer, adored by the audience. I love observing the boys -- they are usually skeptics in the first week, but come to accept it by the end of the six weeks and are usually even talking about how cool it is. I love seeing the familiar faces each year, students that have now been participants for two or three years, students that are excited to be learning more. I love playing for this program.
All this to say, I'm so glad that piano has found a way back into my everyday, even if only for six weeks at a time.