Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Year of Standards

01/01/10 - the wee hours January 1, 2010 - the start of a brand new year, a year in which I'm determined to learn one song every day.

To be able to play - and in a dire emergency, sing - one new song every day for one year. From memory. To not suck too much at it; to suck a little less each day.

The RULES: 1. Songs must fall into one of the following semi-subjective categories: pop hit, jazz standard, not-too-obscure showtune. 2. I have to like the songs (If I don't follow this rule, I will likely be found with self-inflicted piano wire wounds by the end of January). umm... I guess that's it. I feel like there are more rules, but maybe I'll just start with those two.

The REASONS: Why on God's green earth would I want to add such a thing as learning a new song every day to my already-hectic schedule? And whyyyyyyy, I ask you, why am I going to take the time to journal about the experience? I don't think I know the answer to the latter question yet, but as to the former: I have a deplorably small repertoire for a professional musician. I'm a pianist - I'm used to playing whatever singers put in front of my face. But I've always been more of a reading musician, and I'm sick of having to answer no when asked if I know how to play a song from memory. "I grew up sheltered, before YouTube, in the middle of nowhere, exposed only to music written before Beethoven died, and it was three miles uphill both ways to..." - still true, but beginning to sound like a pretty lame excuse for not knowing music that is standard in the New York musical theater world in which I now work.

As soon as I started trying to learn a song a day (I gave myself a head start around Thanksgiving to see just how much this project is going to kick my ass), I realized there are a few good reasons to do it that I hadn't anticipated:

Duh, I'll get better at learning and playing music. I realized that, but the realization was sort of obscured by my first reason - frustration, frustration, frustration with my lack of familiarity with music written by people who are not necessarily dead/white/male.

And maybe if I obey rule number 2 (learn only songs that I like), I will rediscover that feeling of freedom, of playing because I love it so much, that childlike rush that made me want to play music in the first place. I feel like I've lost touch with that joy in the midst of the daily play-to-pay: bills as steep and tall as New York City skyscrapers, technique that needs fixing before I injure myself, a treacherously slippery career ladder. I use all my practice hours (and, alas, too many of my boyfriend hours) just hurrying to learn music for the next gig; whether I like the music or not is moot. I still love playing music, obviously, but it feels like a marriage that's going through a rough patch. I go through the motions, wake up, try, try, try again, and hope that I can reignite the old spark, but something has to change or it's divorce - somethin's gotta give...

And... I'm gonna have to, like, let go of my perfectionism a little, 'cause at the rate of a song every day, perfect ain't gonna happen. This is really scary for me. I often feel like I'm falling off a cliff, and the ideal of perfection is the only trustworthy branch that will keep me from plunging to the rocky depths below. Which is nonsense, I know. Utter horse hockey, etc. And profaner things as well, but what if my Grandma reads this blog? Because, oh yeah, I'm gonna post these musings online. Y'all, I have no idea how to blog. Mental note: watch Julie & Julia, read up on blogs that are about doing something once a day...

Another blow for perfectionism. Why do I sense that this is a big somethin' that's gotta give?


  1. "Another blow for perfectionism."

    Perfectionism is such a double-edged sword, isn't it? It's what makes us good at what we do, but also stands in our way....

    I'm trying to let go of perfectionism too, as you know, with writing my play. Cause if I try to make it perfect as I write it, it'll never get written.

    To a year of letting go of perfectionism!!