The Girl in the Red Dress

23517777_1510531702365350_5454757495854809805_nI am a pianist, but I have long suffered from stage fright. My junior undergraduate piano recital was yesterday and, true to my philosophy that no art is complete without a proper understanding of other art forms, I used literature such as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to create program notes to give greater depth to the pieces that I played.

As I was writing these notes, I realized: Why not also use literature and this wonderful union of my two arts to ease my stage fright? What if I wrote a story tracing the ideal progression of  my recital and pretended that I was an audience member?

So I did. And, to my delight, it helped exponentially! Although I was still incredibly nervous, as soon as I stepped on stage, I was no longer scared little Ryanne, but the Girl in Red that I had seen perform her recital through the eyes of my narrator. It was marvelous! I felt like I had already seen the recital and so was able to imagine I was listening and enjoying the musical and literary journey rather than sitting on stage performing.

Obviously no live performance is perfect, but I felt that by writing this, I was able to play my repertoire more confidently and thus communicate their themes more effectively.

So, my dear musical readers, here is my recital in literary form:

Oh! I should tell you my program as well so this makes more sense:

  1. Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31 No. 2  I. Largo-Allegro by Ludwig van Beethoven  (1770-1827)
  2. Miroirs  II. “Oiseaux Tristes” (“Sad Birds”) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  3. Années de pèlerinage II, S. 161 No. 7 Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

So a piece about the storms of life, lonely birds, and Dante’s Inferno. Fun, right?

The Girl in the Red Dress

We came by invitation, to see a girl we know. She’s quite a character…lanky, blonde, eyes that are intense one minute and twinkling with laughter the next, always writing or dreaming of writing, usually stepping in a limping time to a tune nobody else can hear. But she’s anxious. She overworks herself and doubts her work. She is likely trembling backstage now, her hands nearly purple with cold from the frigid hall and her nervous heart. Likely she is pacing and wringing these hands, trying to calm herself and warm them.

I send a quick prayer up past the cracked ceiling of the hall for her. Lord, calm her nerves and let her play with the excellence and emotion with which she has practiced daily.

As I whisper “Amen,” my hands join the chorus of clapping. She has stepped onstage.

But this is someone different. Still her…and yet not. She’s taller. Her arms are stronger. Her lips match her blazing red dress and yet the blue of her eyes flash and burn the brightest. The click of her heels echo through the hall, a measured drumroll for her own performance.

But she looks upward when she looks outward, as if her audience is not below but somewhere beyond the ceiling’s crevices, in the region my prayer just ascended.

A bow.

She sits.

Silence.

The audience scuffles, trying to hush the murmur of their program notes. Program notes…about books, of course. I glance down at them but it’s too dark to read now. To the glow of the stage I return.

The ghost of notes begin; substantial yet ethereal. How? I hardly dare to breathe, unsure whether I really heard them and yet they are resounding gently through the hall. It’s a mist of sound. And then the mist is broken by the steady gallop of a frightened yet determined human tread.

But the mist is back.

And now the running. It’s an uphill run- not fast but intense and ever moving.

And suddenly it’s a battle cry interchanged with a plea. And now a whirlwind. All melting seamlessly into each other.

But the mist comes again, for the adventurer has reached a peak in the mountain range. It is cold, yet clear, colors of sunlight radiating softly through the curtains of mountaintop clouds. Peace descends like a gentle rain, drawing us upward.

Then the battle rages once more, startling and yet not surprising…Did not we feel in our souls the same ever-present struggle of this piece? Beethoven was too knowledgeable. He knew himself- that is, he knew all of us – too well.

Another moment of peace…yet not peace. It’s a cry. The sound of an oboe as the sound of our very hearts. It is a recitative and it is reflective, but it is not weak.

And then a piercing urgency and pain returns, then whirling and, before I knew it, the piece concludes; urgent and yet not rushed. It is reminiscent of intentionally restraining the racing heart. Controlling our steps if we cannot quite control our fears.

Silence falls. I can see the moth-like breath of the girl in red; it flutters, shaky, but soft.

The scene changes. It’s still a mountain’s peak… Grey swirling mist abounds, but the girl in red leads us above it. We are alone. I am alone. She is alone. Everyone is isolated and alone. No man is an island? False. All men are mountaintops calling in vain to each other, wandering birds forever losing their nests.

It is beautiful but sorrowful. Something tugs in my heart at the harmonies, so blended and subdued but for a sudden flurry of frantic wings. And then faded again, as if the great shroud of mist has descended over us all, sealing out loneliness and separating us from the enduring and interconnected nature in which we have no part apart from our lost nests.

This silence is lighter and heavier at the same time. Something is coming. Something terrifying.

And then it does, in a trumpet blast. It is evil. Or no…not evil…something more terrifying than the evil that has become familiar. It is the best good. It is the Good. And I cannot stand to it and thus cannot but think it evil. The mountaintop that seemed a hermitage is opening up as a gaping prison beneath me and I stumble into it with a crying utterance too deep for words.

Is she bringing us into this inferno? Is she the girl I know or some spirit sent to administer justice of the most fearful kind?

The lament continues, more rhythmic than melodic and each note is a beat of my own heart, which is pounding at the walls of my chest in an effort to escape, but my ribs constrain it and it holds its time.

A reaching for higher aid falls back into lament. We have all killed an Albatross in our lives and this is our recompense.

Drum-rolls and rising tides. Shivers of terror more substantial than chains run down my spine and suddenly it is the distant beating of drums as they approach a funeral pyre…my funeral pyre.

But something is changing… the tonality is richer. Something of gold is in the flames of judgement and real gold fears no fire…but who put it there? Can it – this gold – be enough to pay my ransom?

And then in a burst of light made of every color, my soul is bathed in the burning purity of F-sharp major. It peels back my mask of sin and I realize this mask hid not my face but hid me from seeing the face of One too Great for My Sight.

But I can hear Him. Though I may not yet look, I might hear and feel and sense that the Almighty has won a victory. The victory. And I might dare to hope that He shall make me a soldier to share in this victory.

I take to arms within the deepest part of my being and when the trumpets of fearsome judgement sound again, there is something of my own determination in them.

And this determination brings the strength which is grace.

It is beautiful. I am swept into a lulling dance which turns to the song of Him singing over me. The powers of darkness might whirl around, but this song holds me fast, anchoring me.

It gives way to a beautiful dancing flurry which concludes with a declaration of coming victory, if only the judgement first comes.

Drums again. I feel the darkness creeping forth from its pit. It will not be contained, it says. It inches its way toward the hearts of men.

But that Great and Only Goodness is not touched. It’s dignity and perfection reign and the throne is not overthrown by these creeping, oozing things. It’s perfect order and rhythm and timing subdue them with a fear greater than any they could evoke.

And the song sings again, restoring my strength to finish this battle.

And I see it. I see this Light. Distant, but it is coming for me. I tremble yet rush to meet it.

Oh, glorious victory! Surely it is won!

But are those the trumpets of perdition I hear once more? Oh! the dwellers of the pit sneak forth again in chromatic slyness. They dance, the demons do, dance with a syncopation that is too easy to fall into. They crescendo in their final push.

But their frantic, Bacchic celebration of their own undoing is overthrown by the grace and gentleness of a waltz, which crescendos along with them into their end and its everlasting beginning.

The drums return, but no longer accompanying lament. Rather, it is a drumroll toward triumph. And the horns declaring this triumph continue longer than expected, but, after all, are they not to resound throughout all eternity?

Yes, Lord.

Amen, Lord.

I am shaken. Something has been purged from my soul. I barely register my hands applauding. How does one applaud the victory of the Lord?

But then I remember. This is a piano recital. An ordinary girl in a red dress is performing. This is a piano solo, not a divine judgement. But perhaps they are intertwined after all. Perhaps, even more than the Steinway grand, she herself was an instrument of the true Master.

Flowers and bows and the girl in red smiling as if she has won a victory herself, yet blushing and laughing with an innocent, overwhelmed delight at the same time.

She exits.

And returns.

More bows. More golden laughter, trilling softly beneath the thunderous applause of her loved ones below.

She winks at a friend, signaling him to stop clapping and waits for others to follow before she invites us to tea and scones.

Tea and scones? After this moral turbulence?

I glance at my watch. It’s only been thirty minutes.

Alright, then. Tea time it is.

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Also in the interest of combining arts, I used this stunning painting “Le Femme en Rouge” by Impressionist artist Giovanni Boldini for my recital posters. People kept asking how I got someone to paint me…

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Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

The Eroica 10k

Calling all runners and musicians!

Thanks to my music history class, I have of late become obsessed with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 55, better known as the “Eroica Symphony.”

“Eroica” means “Heroic” in case you did not figure that out for yourself and this musical adventure is just that: heroic. It traces Beethoven’s personal development and victories over the trials of mortal life, as well as mirrors those of humanity as a whole. It might be considered a distilled version of the entire “triumph of the human spirit” genre…or perhaps even the epitome of this genre.

There are many ways to process a piece of art such as this: analyze it visually, internalize it through listening, taste it if you are brave and nobody is looking, etc. However, I firmly attest to the power of movement (no pun intended) when it comes to studying music. Often this leads me to dance around the practice room, but the incredible power and hero’s journey found in the Eroica is something beyond dancing awkwardly by myself.

It demands power. It demands perseverance. It demands running. 

Are you a runner? Are you a musician? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I (and possibly Beethoven) challenge you to take on the Eroica 10k. 

The Eroica 10k

(performed by Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic)

  1. Lace up your running shoes and turn up your music. As soon as the conductor’s baton strikes the first beat, you are off and away!
  2. The first movement is perfectly timed (about 16 minutes) so that you can complete two miles during it if you run at a steady 8 min/mile pace. This is fairly brisk, but it is possible if each step is in time with the beat! (Pro tip: Increase your stride length as the dynamics increase; this will add interval training and speed boosts.)
  3. The second movement is not as rapid; after all, it is more reminiscent of a funeral march. Slow your pace slightly and catch your breath, but continue to run in time and increase your stride during crescendos.
  4. The third movement provides a nice pick-me-up after the sombre second movement, during which I became oddly philosophical even whilst running. This movement, a “scherzo” (joke), is vibrant and quick. AND SO ARE YOU! Pick up speed, but allow your stride to stay short so that you do not overtax yourself.
  5. The fourth movement signals only about 2 miles left, depending on your average pace. You’re almost there and the humor of this opening is sure to put some bounce back into your step. Don’t fight this; instead, allow your stride to be more bouncy as it will actually help energize you through the remaining distance.
  6. Continue to increase your stride length as the music builds, returning to a comfortable pace as it settles down again.
  7. The ending of the symphony will surprise you with its drama and inspire you to finish strong. If you have the urge to conduct while you run, go right ahead. Who cares if the soccer players give you weird looks as you conduct dramatic cadences? You are a runner and a musician and you deserve to add a little flare to the end of your workout! Now sprint!
  8. As the symphony ends, check your distance. If you still have a lap or two to go, never fear! Turn on some light music and run in the spirit of Nike! (Not the shoes…the goddess of victory. But by all means, the shoes are wonderful too.)
  9. Congratulations! You ran an entire 10k and reached a deeper appreciation of Beethoven’s most renowned symphony within the same hour!

Do you feel heroic? You ought to! 6.213… miles (a 10k) is something to be proud of, especially at Beethoven’s relentless pace! Both this symphony and running are exercises in overcoming life’s obstacles, as well as celebrating personal victories; they are both heroic journeys.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy this experience as much as I did, for it served my development both as a musician and an athlete.

Nike!

-Ryanne

 

What we Wish you Knew: An Open Letter from Music Students

 

Dear University and High School,

I was fortunate in high school to have had a wonderful arts department. The faculty, students, and facilities were excellent and I was well-prepared to be a college-level musician. Now, I am studying at a conservatory among talented peers under the direction of stellar professors.

But something is missing.

Support.

My high school music program and college conservatory were and are both incredibly supportive…internally. Within the arts departments, students and professors know each other well, building friendships and mentorships that will endure a lifetime. We cheer each other on in concerts, accompany each others’ solos, give each other advice. We pray for each other, share in the joy of each others’ accomplishments, and listen to each other practice the same piece for what feels like the millionth time.

But this is all internal support. “Intra-conservatory” if you will. Outside the walls of our halls, there is little understanding of who we are or what we do, causing music students to feel unknown and undervalued. This is not something that can be resolved overnight; however, it is vital to not forget what the arts contribute and, in turn, how you as a university can show your appreciation.

For instance, we as a conservatory or high school music program…

  1. …are there for youThe symphony orchestra played for a ceremony honoring the construction of a new science building. The chorale sings for all-student-body chapels. We as a department are there for you, the school as a whole. We love to see other departments benefit and want to lead the rest of the school in worship. However, this supportive relationship cannot be one-sided; we long for appreciation beyond a casual “thanks” in return.
  2. …earn scholarships too. Every time an athlete signs on with a university team or earns a scholarship, the school newspaper writes an article about it. I wonder if the school or the paper realize that music students also are recruited and offered large scholarships to attend and perform in ensembles, just like a sports team… Recognition of these awards equates to recognizing the excellence of the conservatory and the honor of being selected to participate in its ensembles.
  3. …are a tool for recruitment. The chorale tours every year, even when it is least convenient, in order to ensure that recruitment and enrollment at the school continue to increase. However, although members love to sing and to share their gifts with potential students, it is discouraging to go through all this work to serve the school and not receive any acknowledgement.
  4. …open our home to you. During large university events such as conferences, the conservatory opens its doors to all students, welcoming them into the hall that has become a second home for music majors. However, these visiting non-music students and faculty disregard this kindness by bringing in food and drink, leaving behind trash, and acting unruly. Please treat our building with respect! It is old, overcrowded, and falling apart enough already! (We don’t seem to be getting a new one any time soon.)
  5. …provide a community for anyone. Even if you are not a music major, if you are willing to be a team player, have a heart for music, or simply want a wonderful group of friends who will be there for you through thick and thin, the conservatory will welcome you with open arms. Ensembles open to everyone are offered, allowing those who might not have the desire (or insanity) necessary to be a music major to still enjoy the tight-knit and loving community that musicians offer.
  6. …are diligent and dedicated. What other major requires 4-6 hours of study every single day for only one class? And yet, we love what we do and chose to do it. Music majors are among the most dedicated and motivated students you will ever meet. They love what they do, even when it is stressful, and will push themselves to the maximum to ensure that they do it with excellence. Now, doesn’t that sound like the type of student a university would want to encourage and prioritize?
  7. …showcase the school’s strengths. Our university is full of talent, not just in the music department. However, the conservatory showcases these talents on stage for anyone to see. Community members not affiliated with the school often attend concerts and praise the program for its superior quality. Shouldn’t the school be more interested in the program that is drawing in outsiders and showing off the school’s strengths?
  8. …are more than musicians. Within the conservatory are writers, actors, dancers, artists, photographers, and athletes. There are future teachers, authors, businessmen, administrators, and missionaries. Music students are interested in a wide array of fields. However, in not investing in their lives as music students, the school is not investing in their wealth of other opportunities as well, which have the potential to benefit the school and the future of their chosen fields.
  9. …serve other departments. Composers write scores for the film department, pianists play for administrative events, and chamber ensembles perform for art shows. We even started a chapel to serve the more traditional people at the school. Whenever there is a need for music, the conservatory students are thrilled to help, in spite of their already overloaded schedules. We want to team up with other departments and thus foster greater cross-campus unity. However, it is difficult to continue doing so with the university seemingly providing only limited resources and support.
  10. …want to share our passion with you. The biggest thing to know about this issue is that we want to share with you. Any time we complain about being ignored or undervalued, we are expressing a deeper sadness that we are unable to share our gifts with our university community. We work from sunrise to midnight to create operas and concerts, eager to share the fruits of our labor with the school. But how are we to do this with an empty hall, or -worse- an audience that leaves at intermission?

We are pleading with you, our fellow students (and especially our administration), to come to our concerts, to experience for yourself the beauty of the music we love. Yes, we would love a new building with enough practice rooms and working facilities. We would love increased funding so that we can put on more lavish events or purchase the supplies we need. We would love to be included in the headlines of the school newspaper. However, the most meaningful way you as a university can show us your support is also the smallest: simply come and listen. 

Everythingism

I promise I’ll explain the cat sandwich in space picture in the end, so just bear with me for a few paragraphs, okay? Thanks.

I am what most would consider a perfectionist, which is in itself both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, it leads me to, more often than not, accomplish my goals with a high degree of excellence. However, it also leads to misery when I meet with any outcome that I see as failure, which happens far too frequently because perfectionism’s continual lie is that if the outcome is in any way short of flawless, it might as well be a failure worth mourning.

 

As rough as perfectionism makes life, I am learning to move past it. I have had to logically tell myself that I probably will not earn 100% in every class (I might have to be happy with- dare I say it?- a regular A), I won’t win every music competition despite hours and hours of practice, and- silly as it sounds- I need to give up trying to wrestle my hair into the ideal braid because, despite what Pinterest says, no formal hairstyle can really be done in five minutes. In these areas and more, I have learned and am continuing to learn to let the struggle for perfection go and instead find contentment in the pursuit of excellence.

Perfection cannot be achieved and I’m fine with that. (Well, I’m trying to be fine with it.) However, my contentment faces another enemy:

Everythingism.

I know, that’s not a real word, but I don’t care. Dinglehopper. That’s not a word either. So there. Anyway, as I spend more and more time working on my college studies, I find myself fighting harder and harder with everythingism and I’m afraid it is a losing battle.

 

Image result for do all the things

 

“Everythingism”is the only way I could think to describe my intrinsic compulsion to do everything. I am a piano performance major, but also am in the honors college, sing in the top choral ensemble, and have a job as an accompanist at a local church. On top of that, I try to post to this blog regularly and want to finish writing my novel. Oh, and I want to compose music. And resume taking organ lessons. And go running daily. And become a better dancer. And run a macaron bakery. And, and, and…the list goes on and on.

But I can’t. 

I cannot do everything and I especially cannot do everything perfectly. Combined, my everythingism and perfectionism are a recipe for exhaustion, frustration, and discontent. I admit that I like to be busy and can balance quite a few commitments at once, but not everything. That said, I just wanted to encourage my fellow perfectionists and everythingists to take a step back, evaluate what their priorities really are, and breathe. Just breathe for a second. Feels good, doesn’t it? 😉  Now keep reading:

The Everythingist’s Guide to Survival Thriving: 

  1. Tackle perfectionism first: You will not be the best in everything. You will not always complete your ginormous to-do list. There will always be some area that needs improvement and THAT IS OKAY. Sorry, now I look like I’m yelling and I don’t want you to be stressed any more than you already are. Let me repeat myself softer: that is okay. 
  2. Don’t give up: In abandoning perfectionism, do not abandon the drive to succeed. There is such thing as a healthy desire to do well and you should still be aspiring for excellence in your pursuits; just go a bit easier on yourself.
  3. Prioritize: Get out a paper and pen if that helps. Write down what your biggest priorities are at this time in life and focus your energy on those rather than worrying about everything you want you do ever all at once. (Even that sentence sounded overwhelming! *shudder*)
  4. Do the social: I often forget this, which is silly since it’s my own advice. As an introvert and everythingist, I too often lock myself away with the piano or my books as I pursue a goal. But humans need community and I find that fun with friends after a busy week can be a great source of restoration.
  5. Listen to your body: Everythingists don’t like the fact that they get tired or hungry because time spent sleeping or eating means time spent not working. However, no matter how hard you try, you cannot logic away the biological need to rest and restore. If you’re tired, just take a nap instead of muddling through an hour of sloppy “work.”
  6. Let some things go: Prioritizing will help you see what things to focus on and likely what things to let go. You do not necessarily have to let things go forever, but it is important to decide what you need to do in the present and focus instead on that than what you one day expect you might possibly do in the future. (See my point? The present is much more urgent.)
  7. Be decisive: In wanting to do everything, I waste time trying to decide between multiple options. Should I go dancing or run? Practice piano or compose? Stop. Just pick one. Check your list of priorities or draw paper slips from a hat. Just choose something and get to it.
  8. Take a break: Go ahead, let Netflix play one more episode. Sometimes, when you’ve been going nonstop since the break of day, you need to do nothing so that tomorrow you can keep doing everything (or at least a lot of things.)

 

So there you have it. I’m sure I’ll keep adding to this list of ways to cope with everythingism, but I’m still learning how to deal with it myself. Overall, I believe the best advice can be found in something my dad told me: Be content, but not complacent.” Find a peace in knowing that you do not have to do it all perfectly or do it all now, but do not forget to strive for excellence in what you do choose to pursue.

Oh, and one more word of wisdom:

“Don’t be an everythingist or your life will turn into the human equivalent of a cat sandwich in space: too many things without any clear rhyme or reason.” -Yours Truly

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“So you want to be a piano-ist?” and Other Responses to my Major

“What’s your major?” seems to be the question of the month and I am seriously considering giving false answers if (scratch that, when) I am asked this again because it is getting a little old. As a music major with an emphasis in piano performance, though, I have heard some terribly amusing responses to my answer to this frequent question…

Schroeder is my spirit animal. He was also a sass-master. 

The Top 8 Best (or perhaps worst) Responses to Learning my Major

1. “Oh, so you must be pretty good at piano then, huh?” 

Um…. How am I supposed to answer this? I either will sound arrogant or awkwardly lacking in confidence.

2. “Wait, a music major? They have that here?” 

Yes. Yes they do. But you won’t generally see the music majors as we tend to lurk about in caves called practice rooms.

3. “Piano performance? So have you played piano before?” 

Nope. Never. I just thought I’d give it a shot. (*voice drips with sarcasm as thirteen years of lessons flash though my mind*)

4. “Can you play ‘Fur Elise’?”  (Or worse: “Do you know ‘Heart and Soul?'”)

Yep. I smile, but inside my face looks like one of those unamused emojis. Actually I had a teacher who forbid me to play ‘Heart and Soul’ on his piano because he found it insulting. (Admittedly I kind of enjoy it…but don’t tell anyone or I’ll never escape the round of C-A-F-G octaves.)

5. “Piano? I used to play piano! But then I quite because I hated it.”

Thanks for sharing…I think? I’m never sure how to respond to this one.

6. “So do you want to be a piano-ist?” 

No, I want to be a pianist, but for the sake of conversation, sure. Actually, I would love to be a collaborative piano-ist, which is basically an “accom-piano-ist”. (*smiles politely but inwardly cringing at the incorrect terms*)

7. “Have you heard of (insert pop song featuring some keyboard riffs)? I love that song!” 

No, I probably have not heard of it, but if you hum the tune I can play the same four-chord progression over and over so that it sounds like I know it. Is that close enough for you?

8. “You’re a piano major? Well, you’ll survive- maybe not with a soul, but you’ll probably survive.”

This one was from a senior piano major actually. Much encouragement. Very daunting. Many thanks.

*disclaimer: high levels of sass went into the drafting of this post and the author would like it to be known that she does not actually mind the “amusing” responses to her major. She also would like to inform readers that no communications or business majors were harmed or seriously offended in the making of this post.