Thursday, February 10, 2011
It's kind of like waking up one day and realizing that your mother, the woman who munches grape nuts across the table from you every morning at 6:20 AM, your mother looks like your mother. That particular fall of hair! That individual grain of skin! How have you never noticed before how...motherly she is?
I think what started my re-examination of practicing was a conversation I had with the women in my ensemble. I've known these ladies for over a decade. We've discussed sex, elimination, death, underwear, love, all things decent and less so. But we'd never, to the best of my memory, talked practicing. It felt a little bit like describing how you clean out your earwax.
B uses a stop watch. A needs an hour of solid warm up. I have a daily minimum, with the caveat that if I get twenty minutes in and feel like I'm going to puke, I can stop. B stops the clock for bathroom breaks. A knows someone who does visualization. I take off Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day, and I have the option to take off the day after a performance. Fever and emesis get me a pass; a head cold does not.
I mean, what is all this? As a student, practicing serves a clear purpose: you're in training and you're trying to get better. But after you've graduated, when you're more or less a working (or "practicing:" ha!) musician, practicing morphs into something else, something that's half preparation, half superstition. You learn repertoire, yes. But it doesn't take you as long to learn stuff as it used to, so when you're done with subduing the music you're going to perform in the near future you "hone your craft," or bang your head repeatedly against the asymptotic nature of perfection.
There's actually something poignant about it. Practicing, as a student musician, made you successful, so there you are, years later, dancing the macarena in your lucky bikini around a bonfire in an attempt to appease the Gods of Music. It's not that you don't need to practice (you do, and everyone can tell you the cautionary tale of Someone who Lapsed). It's not that you aren't still learning (you are). It's that you can't stop.