This past winter season, I put on a pair of skis for the very first time. It was an eye-opening experience for me that has influenced all facets of my life – most of all music. Learning a new sport or instrument as an adult is in one word, scary. My very first time going down a hill was mostly terrifying rather than exhilarating, I fully admit. And as adults we have a huge obstacle that children never do – ourselves. We have our pride, fear, expectations that we have of ourselves, and are constantly conscious of how we seem to others. Our desire to be in control of everything and the fear of screwing up.
While I was on the mountain, I knew who was in control right from the get go. As I slid down the bunny hill in terror, I yelled “I CAN’T STOP!” Five miles an hour seemed like fifty. At some point, after falling over again and again, my body and instinct began to understand the physics of gravity. If something didn’t work, you fall. If it does, you’re still standing wondering how you’re doing this. To ski I had to let go of myself. If I wanted to stay on my skis, I didn’t have time to be self-conscious or worry about whether I was in control. Once you’re going down the mountain, you’re going down the mountain… and it doesn’t stop for anyone! Everything is just in the moment.
There was one time where I thought I was going to die while on a run – I was being eaten up by the mountain. I couldn’t control my speed and my body was struggling to get some semblance of direction back. And it was then that I realised no matter how good my balance is or my turns are, I can’t forget who’s in charge here – the mountain. And acknowledging that fact – the fact that was I wasn’t entirely in control – was humbling, but also liberating.
When I came back to the piano, I began to view performance as a ski run. There’s a certain impermanence to performing – it’s all in the moment and that’s all you have. And, there are a plethora of things that you can’t control – the temperature, the weather, your dreams the night before, your stomach, the audience. We put pressure on ourselves because we want it to perfect. And it struck me that I never once wanted my skiing to be perfect. I just wanted to have fun and go down the mountain the way I like to (with lots of pretty turns). I wasn’t afraid of mistakes then – on the contrary, I showed off my bruises from skiing proudly just as we would do as children. It was proof that I had fun and for a moment, I was no different from the kid next to me zooming down the hill. So why then, do we put expectations that make playing so un-fun? It’s okay if we’re not in control, and mistakes can happen despite our best efforts. But this takes a while to sink in because we’re so used to valuing the destination over the journey.
Each performance is different and there is beauty in their differences, in much the same way that skiing down the mountain each time is different even if it is the same mountain. And above all, it’s fun or we wouldn’t be lining up at the ski lift for another go!
Respect the mountain, live in the moment and enjoy the journey.