Monday, December 12, 2011

Such a cute little heart. A cute, perfectly proportioned, little red heart. Y’know, the one on facebook that let’s all your friends know that you are “in a relationship.” I’ve never included that heart on my page, because I’m single. It doesn’t bother me to not have it, but it feels odd – contradictory – not to have it because I AM in relationships. Happy ones.

After all, I have 33 private piano students, all of whom have sweet siblings, moms, dads, cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and cool stories. I have a mom and a dad myself, a brother and his girlfriend, and four nieces and nephews. I have neighbors and friends who love and care for me. I have sweet Stanley, my dog. Audience members who appreciate my music are in relationship with me. People walking by my house everyday, with their puppies? I have relationships with them too. I may not know their names but I know their strides. I smile every time that old couple walks by hand in hand. 

And what about the rest of the 7 billion people in this world? We are all in relationship with each other. We’re God blobs. God blobs everywhere, doing our best to love each other, live victoriously, and laugh as much as possible. I AM in a relationship – complete with a sweet, perfectly proportioned, little red heart. A relationship with all of YOU.

O.K., now, to be clear: I do not have a special someone. My heart has not been captured. I’m still single. Changing my status on facebook has caused a bit of a stir. I’m sorry if I’ve either disappointed or overly excited my facebook friends. But the little red heart is just so cute. I’m keeping it.

The relationship that receives the majority of my time and attention, of course, is music. Music and I go way back and way deep. Let’s do a little hour-by-hour count: If I teach 33 students one hour lessons weekly, and devote two hours to personal practice each day, along with just 5 hours of rehearsal per week, I’m at 52 hours in action alone. This doesn’t count visualization, listening, concerts, meetings, choosing new music for students.  But I love my schedule; it feels like a light load to me because of how deeply I love it.

My students are extraordinary. Last week, one boy showed up on his bike. First thing out of his mouth? “What a beautiful day for a piano lesson. Let’s get warmed up.” Oh, and the little girl who shows up with her cat-eared headband on, greeting me at the door with a funny growl? I growl back. The happiness unfolding in my studio brings unending joy, to me and to my larger community of listeners.

Every once in a while a student hits a wall in the practicing department. The honeymoon stage wears off and the real work begins. Recently, I spoke frankly but delicately to one of my students about taking responsibility for her own practice – her own music. “But you didn’t tell me to do that,” she said. That’s always been a quandry for me as a teacher – the responsibility thing. “How much should I practice?” Or, “How long should I practice?” I want to answer, “How good do you want to be?  How much of an impact do you want to make on the world? How do you intend to move your audience?”

Again, it’s all about relationship. Without a fully-formed relationship with your own practice, a clear and concise approach to consistent learning, you will fall short when performing. It is no surprise that the kids with eager and ready attitudes at lessons always shine in performance. It’s all about the inner, hidden work, the preparation. This too is true in our personal relationships with humans. If we don’t really know and consider what is going on inside our partner’s heart, then the 20th anniversary isn’t much of a celebration.

Back again to music. Bottom on the bench, attitude ready and willing each step of the way. Not just on performance day. A performer is also in relationship with his- or herself. We pump our own selves up to give as much heart at home alone when only the dog can hear as we would in a performance.  When we prepare in this way, as if every day was a performance, we look forward to sharing our hard work with the audience. We are ready!

Of course, when fostering human relationships we are not performing – we are being, authentically. My hope, in the end, is that my students will fall in love with music that deeply. When we love something, we want to know more about it. We don’t ask, “How long do I have to be with this person?” because we want to be with that person all the time. When we are in love with music, we want to practice.

Manahem Pressler said it best, when judging the last Van Cliburn Competition. “What are you looking for in these competitors?” he was asked.

“I’m looking for a young lover,” he replied.

Since my nephew was small, he has asked sophisticated questions. We always do our best to answer. If, for some reason, we can’t – he finds the answer himself. Books, more books, more questions. He’s 15 now and gearing up for college. He was given an IQ test last week and rocked it. 139. They asked him things like, “What do rubber and paper have in common?” Me, I don’t know, but he knows. They both come from trees. Well, right. They sure do. I just wouldn’t have thought of that. I told him so, and went on to tell him about my poor test taking ability because of my average intelligence. He replied, “What are you talking about Peedle?” – as if Patches is not enough of a nickname! “You’re a part of this too, y’know. You give your everything to your music. You are really doing it.”

It turns out that even on my “unproductive” days, I’ve always been growing in my nephews eyes. He has watched me learn piece after piece after piece, navigate the fun and the not-so-fun, be “in relationship” with my music. He’s also watched his father use his math genius to design and build houses. Thousands of nails have been driven before my nephew’s eyes, allowing him to witness the way a singular gift can contribute to a greater good.
Along with wicked smarts, my nephew has an advanced perspective on life, due in part to the early loss of his mom. She died of cancer a few years ago. I think he has more space inside himself to understand what is really important in life. He’s alive. He doesn’t worry about high-school b.s. and he doesn’t have to tell his teachers, “But you didn’t tell me to do that.” He just does it. He’s in relationship with life.

So, back to that sweet, little, perfectly-proportioned red heart that will stay on my facebook status because I like it. We are all in relationship with each other and with the things we do. We show this to our children, through our own actions.

“You can do anything you set your heart to,” says a Mom running her first marathon.

“You can be steady in your work,” says a Dad heading off to work, faithfully, every day.

 “You can contribute to the community,” says a Mom building a campaign for a new congresswoman.

“You can have lots of fun,” says a Dad riding his scooter down the street with his kids.

“You can support your friends,” say the neighbors throwing a surprise party for the Mom who has to sell her house.

We are all in relationship with each other.
All the time.
Sweet, little, perfectly-proportioned heartfelt relationships.
Isn’t that right?