Pencils and Nuts

Today I am a squirrel. I am stocking away fingerings for the long, hard festival season. The squirrel hoards for the winter, and I for the summer. Presenters (you know who you are) don’t always seem to care about my peace of mind, and thus for a given trimester of festivals I rarely have a single overlap, a single piece played twice (unless I really throw a tantrum) … At a certain juncture in the summer–the “tipping point”?–the pace of oncoming concerts overwhelms my accumulated credit of preparation, and at that point it is every man for himself … no, every piece for itself. Me, I am adrift, a contestant on Survivor: Chamber Music — stay tuned, will the next piece kick my butt?

I am squirrel in other ways as well. I have a huge pencil problem at the piano. Consider this “simple” process:

a) pick up pencil from music rack
b) neatly write fingering
c) put the pencil down in the same place for easy retrieval

Something about this confounds me; it can “gang agley” at a, b, and/or c. For example, I put the pencil back down on the music rack. I am playing along, happily, I feel I sound reasonably OK (as probably occurs too often), so I don’t stop, I turn the page, swept up in the moment… (at the very least my page turn will be done with gusto, will express the spirit of the passage I am playing!) At this point the pencil, perched innocently on the music rack, gets caught up in the fracas, flies away, onto the floor–cruelly and perversely landing behind a huge pile of music waiting to be learned (and fingered). I bravely ignore this, but when it comes time again to put in another fingering, then I have to stop playing, crawl on the floor, look for it, and past experience (cruel mother of statistics) has taught me that I have at least a 40% chance of thereby bumping my head against the bottom of the piano (collateral damage). Usually this irritation overwhelms my desire to write in the fingering, and so no more fingerings will be written. So there.

My solution is brilliant, and yet socially unacceptable. (Luckily piano practicing is a deeply antisocial activity.) I keep a pencil in my mouth (!) at all times while practicing, and this makes me look rather idiotic… like a squirrel or chipmunk. But the pencil is thus always at hand (at tooth, I should say), and I have become quite attached to this posture; this idiocy tames my mind, arranging it in the ideal “flow state” for practicing. Sometimes all I need to do is put a pencil in my mouth to put myself “in the mood” (not tonight, Steinway, I have a headache). Pencil is to me as blanket is to Linus and yes I know Schroeder was the one who played the piano but Linus was and is my hero.

After three hours of fingering yesterday, I headed to my local sleepy Indian restaurant, which, judging from its takeout menu, is “Under New Management.” There is of course no reflection of this in either the service or the cuisine. As always, I order “Balti Jalfrazi,” and, as always when I eat in the restaurant, it is totally in another planet of tastiness from the same dish, delivered. A bowtied, elegant waiter wipes my plate with a pristine white towel before gently laying it down on the table in front of me. The dish is presented in a beautiful, miniature copper pail. Fragrant basmati rice steams from an oval platter. I refuse to believe the food suffers that much from the four block journey to my house. Here is my theory: when you sit in the restaurant, they are forced to confront you “as a person,” to believe in your existence… they cook with courtesy, ethically. But as a mere delivery, a numbered apartment on a numbered street, it is just business, just the endless flow of curry up and down Amsterdam Avenue…

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  1. dulciana
    Posted May 5, 2005 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I’m relieved that I’m not the only person who practices with pencil in mouth. When you drop the pencil at the organ, it falls into the no-mans-land underneath the pedals and is never seen again!

  2. Mitts
    Posted December 3, 2006 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Your mouth-as-pencilpot strategem puzzles me. What is one supposed to do with the surplus drool that inevitably breaches one’s wedged-open lips? Unable to find a physiological solution, I have for many years simply limited myself to repertoire that leaves the upper extreme of the keyboard free for stationery storage purposes.

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