Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What is a person to do when someone in the family is practicing and it is truly irksome?

Obvious suggestions: Close the door. Go for a walk.

Less good: Run the vacuum cleaner. Turn up the TV.

Better yet, instead of comparing the sound to a pre-fabricated version of the piece, try to imagine what your relative is trying to achieve and how it might relate to things you know about that person.

A relative of mine, in just that situation, asked me one of the most thoughtful questions I have ever been asked: "Do you think that sounds good?" The answer was: "No!" In reply I received an encouraging pat on the arm with the words, "Don't worry. It'll get better." The relative was my son at age seven; the instrument a tuned-in-the-factory cello that I was trying to get the hang of.

Two realities put his question in perspective. First, I knew it would not get better because it was much harder than I could have imagined to play the cello in tune after decades of living with the sound of the piano. Second, and more important, he knew me as a pianist who sounds good on the instrument I do know how to play. By asking the question he took care of himself and he made me conscious of how my listening relates to others.

It reminds me of the unforgettable opening line of the play "Harry Outside" by Corinne Jacker: "Isn't my practicing bothering anybody?"