Moving through life requires shift of tempos

Tacoma News TribuneApril 4, 2014 

“Allegro, let me introduce you to Andante. You’ll enjoy getting to know each other.” So says my alter ego to my ego. 

The conversation between these two has been an adventure in humility at the piano keyboard.

Bear with me as I set the context.

It began in May 2013, at rehearsals for the Orchestral Recital Series, an annual week-long public event sponsored by the Tacoma chapter of the Washington State Music Teachers Association. Piano students of any age and virtuosity have the opportunity to play as soloist with a chamber orchestra comprised of fellow student musicians from local high schools and universities.

(No need to emphasize that I am among the more “seasoned” piano soloists. I don’t care. I enjoy sharing the experience with earnest musicians of any age and ability.)

At my final rehearsal last year, I waited my turn as a young boy, no more than 10 years old, played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 17, Allegro” . . . flawlessly.

He was so skilled that, during a 14-measure orchestral sequence in the middle of the composition, this boy-pianist took the opportunity to methodically tuck his shirttail back into his slacks. And then, exactly on cue, he re-entered the piece. He made it look absolutely effortless. At the final note, conductor, orchestra, program coordinator and onlookers were astonished. We all applauded enthusiastically.

I made it through my final rehearsal and performance last May . . . adequately. But what I remembered equally was this boy and the glorious music he made.

So, I went right out and purchased Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453.”

I announced my intent to learn the same allegro movement to my piano teacher at our next lesson, and I showed him the score. He was not amused.

“Maggie, you just performed a challenging Mozart concerto movement. Why on earth do you want to do this to yourself — and to me — again? Let’s find something more manageable. You’ll have to memorize all of this — no score allowed at the concert performance. This is 36 pages of music! What are you thinking?”

I was thinking that if that young boy could do it, so could I.

Welcome, Reality.

So now it’s April 2014. The concert series is in late May. I have been laboring at this music for 10 months. (And so, consequently, has my good-sport, long-suffering teacher.)

It’s memorized. I live it, sleep it and frequently curse it. I have six weeks to perfect it: a spirited, playful and long work that showcases Mozart’s youthful energy (he was 28 years old when he composed it), his keyboard deftness and his musical genius.

It exposes every weakness I have at the piano.

Maybe I should have picked an andante piece (walking pace — not too fast, not too slow) or even an adagio (slow), not an allegro (lively, quick). But I’m not willing quite yet to concede. I may only get as far as the first rehearsal, but I want to try.

Preparation takes longer at this point in life. (Welcome again, Reality.) That wonderful young boy — my role model and mini-Mozart — probably mastered this music in a few short months, or weeks. Young brains do that.

We “blue-hairs” need a little more time. Our synapses don’t connect as readily as when we were pre-teens. Memorization is excruciating.

But we can still make beautiful music — in all parts of life. And I want to.

A dear family friend of my parents’ generation shared that she’s approaching her time to relinquish space at the top of the mountain so that others, on their way up, can enjoy the view.

I’ll have this conversation one day as well, but not before the May 2014 Orchestral Recital Series.

I may downshift from allegro, but I’m not finished climbing. I’ll just choose a different tempo.

Wish me luck.

Maggie McGuire of University Place is a former News Tribune reader columnist. To hear Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Allegro,” visit this YouTube link for Leonard Bernstein’s interpretation: tinyurl.com/kkcls7g.

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