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.