The Good House author Ann Leary recently published an article in the March Real Simple magazine. In the article, she discusses learning new skills, and advises that “learning new lessons in midlife is the best way to feel young again.” In the last 10 years, she has learned to “play tennis, drive an ambulance, design a website and maneuver a truck pulling a horse trailer…perform CPR [and] the Heimlich maneuver” and now she’s learning to play the banjo. She presents a learning matrix that I have applied to my own recent learning experiences. (Discussions about the four stages can be found at http://www.gordontraining.com).
Myself, I am taking piano lessons. I often thought I’d take them again when I retired, but I kept hearing piano pieces I wanted to play. One was a lovely passionate piece by Schumann entitled Faschingsschwant Aus Wien and played by young pianist Marika Bournaki after a screening of the documentary I Am Not a Rock Star, featuring Ms. Bournaki. Keep in mind, Bournaki has played and practiced for hours each day since she was about four years old and studies at Julliard. Another was a piece called Le Onde that sounds like rolling ocean waves, played by Italian Ludovico Einaudi, who is three years younger than I, but one of Europe’s best-selling pianists and composers.
The thought that I could play these two pieces any time soon, falls under the Stage 1 category of “Unconscious Incompetence” in the chart included here. After only one piano lesson, I moved into the Stage 2 level of “Conscious Incompetence,” something I believe means that you are conscious of how embarrassingly badly you play.
My Mother loved music. When she was a child, she wanted to play so desperately my Grandmother found a way to obtain a piano and lessons, despite their poverty during the Depression. Mom provided me with the opportunity to take lessons early on, but I didn’t really appreciate them. I went on to play clarinet in marching band, and to participate in choir and a choral group or two. She told me one day I’d be grateful to her for the lessons, and I am. I really am.
In spite of the bass clef having fallen out of my memory in the 50 years since my first lessons, I love that quarter and eighth notes, and pianissimo and forte is all coming back to me. I love playing the simple little German Dance, and moving on to practice the Minuet in G. It pleases me, if it pleases no one else. I may never reach Stage 3’s “Conscious Competence,” but it will be okay. Every note I play, whether good or bad, connects me more closely to my Mother and to the world of music, and I am happy to retrain my fingers and my mind and to consciously reinforce that connection.