why I make music (and why I practice)

I’ve been making music since I was a small child. It started with singing, then included piano, flute, and double bass, and now I mostly just sing and play piano. Listening to music is a great pleasure, but making music is a deeper experience and emotion, joy and earnestness and connection. I’ve never considered myself a very creative person – my improvisation skills are worthless, and my compositions fall into a few standard categories with little innovation or depth. I gravitate towards the technical and enjoy concrete challenges. I’m not necessarily very good, but music is my lifeblood.

I make music because I must. In the same way little kids burst into fits of dancing, I must express myself with music. Song bursts out of me, at mostly appropriate times. It’s how my soul expresses itself. It facilitates my communication with the world and with God.

But I practice for other reasons. In part, I practice to improve, but in larger measure, I practice so I don’t distract. If you’re like me, you’ve heard performances that make you cringe or put you on edge, wondering if the next note will be in tune or out of control. Instead of hearing the music, you hear the technique. That’s just not a fun experience for anyone, the performer or the listener. And so I practice so that technique doesn’t get in the way of the music. Yes, I try to bring my own expression to the music, but people won’t notice that expression if they’re concerned about my technique.

This came up as I was practicing for a solo for Christmas Eve. It wasn’t a big thing – just the first verse of Of the Father’s Love Begotten – but it was sung unaccompanied and alone. I found that I kept going sharp, and the key meant that the first few notes ran right over my lower passagio, so I practiced. Worked on it in coaching and my lesson. Thought I was going to be okay. But in the moment, I realized I hadn’t practiced enough for it to be muscle memory, and so I went (a little) sharp and sounded awkward on a note. Missed the expression I had been working on putting into it. I was disappointed, and the few people I mentioned it to (my husband, the organist, and the choir director) all said they had noticed my slip-ups. Granted, they were the ones most likely to notice, but still, I felt like I let myself down and took away from the experience of others.

That kind of experience makes me want to practice, and practice more. It can become tedious, but the end result is usually worth it. I noticed a difference in the recitals from 2015. For the one in April, I practiced tons, and it went pretty well. For the one in October, I practiced less, and hearing the recording of it made me realize just how much practice improves everything. There’s something innocent about unpracticed song, but it is often tentative and not as expressive as it could be with study.

I guess to sum up, I make music for myself, and I practice for others.

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