Santa Clara

Santa Clara

I once attended a seminar on piano – i’m surrounded by teachers and the guest lecturer posed the question “What is the definition of a professional?”  Many answers were thrown out on the floor like “one who is accomplished in their field” or another added “if you have enough skill to be compensated monetarily for your abilities”.  I’m thinkin’ to myself…if that’s the case, i woulda been a pro at age 5 when the senior in the old folks home tossed me a quarter for playing the piano.  lol.  Still others thought that it was the amount of years in the discipline.  Others suggested degrees etc.  Finally, the clinician offered, “In music, amateurs practice until they get it right.  Professionals practice until they can’t get it WRONG”.  Hmmm interesting.  I understand the concept – i understand the intention of practicing until there is a ‘safety net’ of instinct to fall back on.   But more than that, despite my best efforts in preparation, i believe that the inevitable happens and things go terribly wrong;  the slip of a finger, a distraction, a technical difficulty – and it’s that split second decision, that moment when you feel utter panic and then figure out on the fly what you’re going to do that in my books makes a professional.  As far as i know, the term “on the fly” refers to a flywheel which is a wheel that in the mechanical world moderates change in torque.  Quite often it’s constantly spinning but has the durability to withstand change.  In music, playing on the fly refers to making changes instantaneously.  So, to me, the definition of a professional is one who can play on the fly – one who can respond.  I’ve many a time heard people exclaim “oh that music is so easy… i could do that”.  Oh really? I read a book once called “The Inner Game of Music” where he asked “if you had to play happy birthday on the piano… could you do it? And now play that same song in front of 100,000 people.  Would that be different for you?”  My answer is YES!!!  I’d be way more nervous.  I’d be rehearsed – i’d know the song upside down and inside out.  Why? To ensure that i would be able to handle the situation.  Despite the difficulty level of music, it’s the preparation for ‘what-ifs’  that counts – it’s the ability to play on the fly.  Recently i was playing a gig in a band and my entire keyboard setup went up in smoke.  Split second of panic. Split second to regain composure. Split second to make a plan of action all the while i’m continuing to perform.  The music didn’t change, but the situation surely did.  It’s the multitasking and the reaction that makes the pro.  I absolutely LOVE what Oscar Peterson said once “there’s no such thing as wrong notes – just bad recoveries”.  Aye there’s the rub.