Compared with the repertoire I performed in the recital for my masters recital, Miles Davis’ “Four” is a walk in the park. That said, despite having declared that “I had memorized the music for ‘Four’ without realizing it” over a week ago, I’m still struggling through the last 20% to get to where I’m confident that I can sit down at the piano cold and play through “Four” without a hitch.
I didn’t learn about the Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule) until I had given up music. I read about it in the contexts of business and productivity where the general idea was to identify the 20% of your clients, to-do list, etc, that would net you 80% of your results, focus on those, and let the other 80% slide. Now that I’ve returned to music, I’ve discovered another side to the Pareto principle. When you want to learn and memorize a piece of music 100%, you will progress quickly up to the 80% point but the last 20% becomes an uphill battle.
I’d forgotten how much repetition is involved in memorization. Often I feel that as soon as I secure one measure in a phrase, another measure in that same phrase will fall apart and it’s back to repeating over and over and over and over… I’m so grateful that Jung likes to hear my practice! I’m sure I would have driven her insane by now otherwise.
Perhaps it also feels like it’s taking me more time to learn “Four” because I am more careful with my practicing than I used to be. I recall a teacher warning me once that it takes much more effort to correct a musical passage that has been learned incorrectly, than it would have taken to learn it correctly in the first place. When we learn something incorrectly, we must first unlearn what we learned, then we must start again from zero to learn the passage correctly. It takes at least twice as much time and effort that way and maybe more. I have finally taken this warning to heart and I don’t let myself get away with incorrect or uncertain notes anymore. I want to try to get this right the first time.
As Jung and I continue our work of living conscious, authentic, and intentional lives I sense similar themes of practicing. Sometimes I feel that we are repeatedly challenged in the same way. Sometimes I’ll share a “revelation” with Jung only to have her tell me that I had the same “revelation” a month ago. Sometimes I get frustrated with how long it takes to unlearn an old pattern even when I know the new way of being I want to replace the old pattern with. Jung and I are practicing our life by living it and practice involves a lot of repetition and a lot of patience, especially when trying to unlearn something we learned incorrectly the first time.
I also know that this practice never ends. The pianist Glenn Gould recorded Bach’s Goldberg Variations twice: once at the beginning of his recording career, and again at the end. To me, the recordings sound like they were performed by two completely different pianists, and I suppose they were. After practicing for his entire career, Glenn Gould was a different musician and chose to feature different qualities in the Variations. Likewise, I notice that as Jung and I revisit particular themes in our life we live them out a little differently each time, just as we experienced the Washington Park Arboretum differently the second time we visited it.
So patience, repetition, and “two steps forward one step back” will be with us until the end of this life that we chose and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My life now has texture, color and richness which it never had before and those are qualities I love to experience over and over and over and over…