It is 5:00 in the morning, and I am awoken by a barrage of notes in my head. Snatches of Prokofiev and John Adams compete in my brain for space like a ticker tape running across my forehead. Later, my face is calmly responding to a request for exact change from the checkout guy at my local market, while visions of Erickson dance in my head. Shades of brilliance, you wonder? Is she insane? Does she also hears voices?
No—I’m just getting ready for a big recital. So rather than wake everyone in the neighborhood by running to the piano and playing the development of the Prokofiev 3rd Sonata, I am writing out the thoughts of a pianist who is madly preparing for her next gig—so many notes, so little time! I imagine there are many of you out there who have experienced this. Sometimes, when the soundtrack is loudest in my head, I wonder if this is how composers like Scriabin felt. No wonder he went insane. It’s bad enough to have some pop song you heard on the radio playing in your brain all day, but to have the twists and turns of Prokofiev, or the changing rhythms of Adams (did that section actually start on the downbeat?), or the haunting sounds of George Crumb—it’s quite distracting. And clearly, I’m not getting enough sleep. I can’t wait until my daughter wakes up so I can go downstairs and practice. I could play softly, I suppose, but I really want to go over the tumultuous end of the sonata, and I don’t think that’s a pleasant way for her to wake up. It could have bad repercussions on the rest of my morning, and even pre-recital jitters cannot compete with the demands of an adolescent girl getting ready for school. China Gates might awaken her with a pleasant attitude, but Prokofiev could cause a bad hair day. What to do?
I am just the interpreter of these great works, and I am deeply affected. I can only imagine what it must be like to hear these notes in your head before they reach the paper. I think the feeling must be similar. Preparing for a recital, like writing a piece of music, is like giving birth. The preparation and excitement that leads up to the event can only be relieved by the successful arrival of the baby. And yet, you cannot control all the details. That is, of course, the essence of live performance. All the notes I hear in my head all day will come out on stage, and then be replaced by others for future recitals and concerts. Sometimes, it’s hard to concentrate, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.