benchmarksblog

WHAT I LEARN FROM LIFTING & PLAYING

Category: PLAYING

I HAVE TO TELL YOU …

Normally, when someone opens a conversation with this declaration, I tune out immediately, because what inevitably follows is one, or more, of the following inane variations: 

… I used to play the piano when I was younger but I quit. 

… my grandfather/grandmother/father/mother played the piano. 

…. I was in orchestra/band in high school/college. 

… my cousin plays the trombone/some other unrelated instrument. 

… about this Asian (unfortunately, sometimes Oriental is used) pianist named (insert mangled sound of a non-Asian person trying to say an Asian person’s name), do you happen to know him/her? 

It’s not that I don’t care.

But rather, I don’t care to engage in a conversation that presumes we have a lot more in common based on a faulty kind of logical pretext. 

So when she ends her “I have to tell you … “ with “that you are my favorite pianist,” I am startled. 

She says I probably don’t remember her, which I do not, but that I played for her daughter’s wedding 7 years ago. 

She remembers me because her father had played, and having me there was like having him there, so similar were our musical styles, influences and affectations. 

She also remembers that I showed up and was brilliant, joyful and exuberant, despite the fact that my own partner had passed barely a few months ago. 

She elaborates that staff had volunteered this information which I had kept private, and she had meant to tell me on the day itself, but couldn’t, because she was so choked up with emotion, seeing me unknowingly giving so much more to her family, in spite of my personal grief.

And finally, she is glad she now has this chance to say thank you, and to express what I have truly meant to her. 

I have to tell you … I’m grateful for this gracious, humbling and fortifying experience

Advertisements

BURN

When I am asked to take this particular song from Hamilton out of my repertoire for the annual Halloween performances of The Haunting of Broadway, I think it’s some kind of trick.

 

The music is a perfect treat.

 

It’s current.

 

And it’s clever programming, because we burn things we don’t understand, like witches, just as Eliza in the show burns with anger, all of Alexander’s love letters to her when she finds out about his marital indiscretions.

 

But I also completely understand, at this spooky time of year, the need for some of the skeletons of our guests, to remain unseen, and out of sight, in the closet, where the spirit of jealousy is left unprovoked by the cliché of art imitating life.

LIKE MOTHS TO A FLAME

I love the clothes in my closet.

 

All the items are arranged by type, then by color, and then further sub-organized by size.

 

I don’t have very many expensive or designer pieces, but I do have clothes that have been carefully purchased and maintained, to make me look good for the range of casual to formal gigs I play, whether my body is in competition preparation mode, or in the bulking up stage.

 

It also gives me great joy to see my wardrobe uniformly hanging perfectly on all-white hangers, each spaced apart at exactly one finger width.

 

So when the first chill of the fall air hit this Sunday, I knew it was time to pull out my favorite charcoal v-neck woolen sweater, only to be shocked to tears when I discovered that it was completely ridden with holes.

 

This is my first experience with moths and I have learnt a lot since the weekend about how to eradicate them, and to how to prevent their future infestation.

 

It is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, to dry-clean, heat sanitize or freeze every piece of fabric in your home, thus ensuring all moth eggs are killed.

 

But this is a process that has to be endured, because one destroyed article of clothing can lead to an even bigger disaster, should the eggs quietly hatch, the larva silently consume the surface on which they emerge, discreetly reach maturity, become inconspicuous adult moths, and lay more harmful eggs in your closet or other parts of your home, all in stealthy unnoticeable shadowed cover.

 

As I pulled all the suitcases from the top shelf of my closet, I had to wonder what kind of baggage my friend had carried with him.

 

A few weeks ago, he had left a suicide note on his Facebook page, and then successfully completed the act.

 

We had worked together for seven years, from the very first day of the restaurant opened, and had always shared a camaraderie based on laughter and humor, each of us always trying to outdo the other with an instigating comment or witty remark.

 

He was fun to be around, truly, the ideal front-of-house personality.

 

Nobody, not one of us, could have ever suspected the secretly growing frays of his heart, kept in the dark for so long, finally exposed to light as decayed and fragile as the threads I am so diligently seeking to prevent the same fate from happening.

IT ALL FADES AWAY

When he asks me if I notice anything different about his wife, I hesitate.

 

This is a much loved regular couple, whom I only see from fall to spring, when the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is in session, and season ticket holders attend their concerts.

 

“She’s just as lovely as always, Sir”, I reply.

 

He hugs me and confides that this past summer, her Alzheimer’s has gotten much worse. He no longer has a partner, more like a platonic friend. He says I am one of the few people left whom she recognizes and mentions by name. And for that, he is grateful.

 

For a long time after he leaves, I think about the horror of forgetting, and also being forgotten.

 

It’s been a long and tedious week, and really, what of any of it, at the end of the day truly mattered, or was even remotely as impactful as this man living the slowest, most agonizing of deaths?

 

Not the opinions I had on recent management decisions.

 

Not the man who snidely asked me if I ever played in anything other than C, “for example B-Flat.”

 

Not the other man who complained that my playing was “so aggressive that it was actually accosting” his ears.

 

Not the hostess who called me a fucking-smart-ass-know-it-all when she said that water was her favorite element to a guest wearing a Periodic Table patterned tie, to which I rolled my eyes and informed her that a water is not an element, a molecule of which is composed of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen.

 

Not the former server who posted a nasty rant about me on Facebook, calling me a never-has-been and insinuated that my private sex life was nowhere as pristine as the purported reputation I seemingly valued above all else, “just ask the boys in Ferndale and Birmingham.”

Not the delusional couple who wanted details of my audition, believing that I had studied at Julliard, making me lie on the spot to save face, by saying that I had started in the acting department but eventually found my way to the jazz program, in my sophomore year, from which I eventually graduated summa cum laude.

 

It all faded away.

MARIA

When he came up to me and told me that he had just come to dinner from a mass for the 90-day anniversary of his wife’s passing, I offered a stock condolence, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and tried to keep my eye rolling to an internal minimum.

 

I am well aware that for Catholics, a nine-day novena (prayer) is a common ritual, as is a celebration on the deceased’s 40th day – because this is believed to be the day they ascend to heaven.

 

Just as common, are anniversary masses commemorating the date of death.

 

So a 90-day arbitrary departure from church protocol seemed a little flippant to me.

 

Then after an inappropriately lengthy description to a complete stranger of what a wonderful woman she was, I was instructed to play Maria, from West Side Story, because, internal eye roll, that was her name.

 

I wanted to ask if this 90 day deceased woman was also Puerto Rican.

 

But I did not.

 

Instead, I chose to play a spontaneous Maria-Ave Maria (Shubert) mash up, summing up this entire interaction so far in one alarmingly charming, witty, pretty musical gesture.

 

Judging from the applause, the entire dining room thought so too.

 

I fully expected a twenty-dollar bill as a tip from this man when he came back to the piano.

 

He had nothing for me, except the confusion of why I hadn’t yet played his request.

 

The tables around me were looking at me, wondering what I would do next.

 

There was nothing I could do, except invite him to sit on a stool next to the piano, and play the same mash up again.

 

When I looked up, he had tears in his eyes.

 

“I never expected anything so beautiful,” he whispered.

 

As he reached into his back pocket, I fully expected that twenty to emerge.

 

What I received instead, was a huge 4 by 9 inch magnet, with a picture of a sunset over a lake, silhouetting some trees.

 

“Can you see my Maria?” he asked.

 

Another lengthy description followed about how he took this photograph on his cellphone one day, and instantly knew that his Maria was watching over him from above. He saw her face in the trees and the Holy Spirit rising from the water in the shape of a dove. He was convinced that it was now his life’s mission to spread word of his wife’s battle with cancer, because her suffering should not have been in vain.

 

I had had enough of this foolishness and wanted my own suffering with this man to end.

 

I nodded my head.

 

“Go to the website on the magnet,” I was instructed.

 

I could then write to Maria and tell her that I had met her husband.

 

And tell her what exactly, I wondered, that she had been married to a somewhat indulgent, socially obtuse lunatic?

 

How do you solve a problem like that, Maria?

 

Like trying to catch a cloud and pin it down, hold a moonbeam in my hand, or keep a wave on the sand, I found myself in times of trouble.

 

The only words of wisdom I could hear spoken to me, just let it be, let it be.

TIES LIKE ME

I played the gay professional networking mixer last night and walked away with two numbers in my pocket.

 

One from an ex-boyfriend, who will forever remain an ex.

 

The other, from a very handsome businessman, who was my age, and who invited me out to coffee the next day.

 

At coffee, he sheepishly put his hand on the table, wearing the wedding ring that was clearly absent the night before.

 

I looked right into his sexy blue eyes said, “If you just wanted to fuck, you should have told me that from the start, and we would have had an extra 45 minutes, instead of wasting all this time at Starbucks.”

 

Then later on, kissing me at my door to leave for his afternoon meeting, he told me that he would be back, and the next time, he would bring the Starbucks.

 

THE GREAT EQUALIZER

“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

Horace Mann, 1848

Another great equalizer I’ve recently come to realize, is the traditional bodybuilding gym, where no one cares what I do, how much I make, what my politics are, what my sexuality is, or even how much I can bench press. 

What makes everyone the same, regardless of genetics, race or socio-economic class, is commitment and dedication – showing up everyday, executing a training program, working through pitfalls, and celebrating progress. 

So when a guy I had long idolized, but only exchanged nods in passing acknowledgment, told me that he had admired and enjoyed my piano playing when he had dined at the restaurant a few nights ago, I was even more convinced that the gym could be a great opportunity for this idea of equalization.

Then, he told me that he particularly enjoyed The Phantom of the Opera medley I had performed because he had always loved the soundtrack.

So definitely, education. 

THE PARABLE OF THE JAZZ FESTIVAL

Two very different fathers took their children to see the Christian Sands Trio.

The first father was black. He enthusiastically encouraged his 4 year old son to clap at the end of solos and to stand on his feet at the end of the entire set to yell “encore.”

During the rest of the performance, the child was kept quiet and attentive with a steady stream of red grapes, mini pretzels, graham crackers and cheddar goldfish, discreetly passed along with a silent finger directing the boy to what each musician on stage was doing. The boy moved his body in time to the music, happily eating his snacks. 

I can only imagine that as the years go by, this father will definitively ensure his son understands the cultural significance of this art form, as a historical part of his own ethnicity, and a vibrant living expression of his own identity. 

The second father was Japanese. He enthusiastically encouraged his 16 year old son, at every possible moment, to observe the technical mastery of piano playing and improvisation, specifically, the hand position as it related to executing particularly challenging running phrases. 

During the entire performance, the teenager sat with his hands clasped solidly in his lap, his face completely blank, unmoved by any of the beauty before him. He did not clap, only nodding his head complicity, to agree with each of his father’s numerous suggestions of what should be incorporated into his own playing. 

I can only imagine that as the years go by, this son will probably come to hate jazz, and may even stop playing the piano completely, because he will achieve neither that spectacular level of proficiency, nor be truly able to connect emotionally with the fundamental joy of making music. 

POSE

I have the opportunity this week to play a Nord keyboard, immediately falling in love with its sound and feel.

 

This makes my much less expensive Korg seem completely inadequate, even though it has served me well all these years for off-site and outdoor gigs.

 

Then at the sound check for a wedding ceremony, my fears are dismissed.

 

My trusty keyboard is perfect for me, just the way it is.

 

I am thinking about the Nord as a cocky 18 year-old boy interrupts the posing session with my trainer.

 

He has just completed his first show a few months ago, and eagerly peels off his tank top to demonstrate the areas he thinks I can improve on.

 

As soon as he left, my trainer asks me how I feel.

 

I’m feeling just fine.

 

I am perfectly comfortable with what we have been working on because it reflects who I am as a person.

 

I mean, why should I pose as someone that I’m not?

 

IF YOU’RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT

I’ve been clapping my hands a lot.

9 days out to my second competition and I haven’t cried yet. 

On my first try at this, I already had a few sniffles and two full out melt downs by this time. 

I’m not sure what next week will bring.

But this one has been a rough one with work politics. 

I’m not saying I wasn’t pissed off or frustrated. 

I just kept clapping my hands and holding on to my happiness.

And counting my blessings.