For the Love of Playing

By Richard Huggins
From AccompaList, a Resource for Church Accompanists
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I'd like to build on a comment written by Van Vanpool, organist at First Methodist Church, Bowie, TX, about an inspirational experience that was his when he played his then newly-enhanced sanctuary organ one day. Here is an excerpt from that message:

 "I sat down and started playing for myself and could not believe that I am privileged to play such an instrument in such a small town. As I modulated from the key of D into E flat for a final improvisation treatment, I brought on the reeds and big mixtures, for the final verse of "Holy, Holy, Holy," there were tears in my eyes, as I was transported from this world of war and terror into a world of God through the sound of the organ.

I needed that."

As for one's own playing inspiring one...I think we players are the only ones who can appreciate that concept. I sometimes have said to an audience, "If this looks like it would be enjoyable to do, I can tell you that it really is!"

Playing an instrument is fun, and the better you can play it the more fun you have (practicing is its own reward). It's vital that none of us ever lose that sense of wonder and enjoyment from our own talents, and certainly never feel "funny" that we enjoy our own playing!

It sounds like Van had one of those moments of re-discovery--- re-discovery of the beauty, passion and power of music; re-discovery of the enjoyment of playing it; and re-discovery of the enjoyment of a fine musical instrument.

I was watching my local Public Broadcasting Network station recently and caught an absorbing documentary ("The Cliburn: Playing On The Edge") that focused on four pianists who competed in the Eleventh Annual Van Cliburn competition, held in Fort Worth. Wow--talk about inspiring! It was an utterly fascinating look into what it's like behind the scenes to be in that competition. The final player featured was a Russian competitor named (what else?) Olga.

All four of the players, when they got into the actual performance (with an audience), in every way displayed total immersion in the music, reflecting not only the passion of the piece but, clearly, THE LOVE OF PLAYING IT. But Olga seemed to take it to the next level, and it didn't hurt that she was playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #3, an wonderfully passionate piece with soaring, gorgeous themes. This concerto ends with a build-up of tempo, volume and notes, concluding wth a fiery finish of piano and orchestra. When Olga got there, she almost threw herself off the bench with the exclamatory follow-through of her final chord, reeling backward, head thrown back, hair flying everywhere, a somewhat stunned expression reflecting the incredible but exhilerating washer-cycle of music that she'd just been through. It don't think it was anything she intended, but rather almost like a recoil from a moment so intense she hardly could believe it. That's passion!

The audience leaped to their feet in applause, and it took me a moment to dissipate the chills that had run up my spine. Although I can't play like Olga, I certainly could relate to her passion, her love of playing and the rewards of preparation. (When the winners were announced, Olga was one of two who were declared co-winners of the competition, something that never had happened.)

Face it folks---we are divinely blessed to be able to play. Yes, we practiced and practiced, but probably for all of us there was innate talent upon which to build, and we didn't give that talent to ourselves. But burnout can happen, and when it does, re-discovery is to be sought. Go play your instrument for awhile and play any piece you want! Indulge yourself with music you like to play, music which has a chance to inspire you (or entertain you!). Listen to inspiring music, drift away into it.

I think that periodically something something has to happen to move you to tears, lest not only you but your love for music gets too dry---even if you have to play for yourself to do it! Re-awaken your love for playing. Olga and I want you to!



The following day I was in a music store, one of those that offers piano lessons at the store. As I browsed, wafting from one of the rooms in the rear where the lesson was taking place were the unmistakable sounds of a beginning player. Play. Mistake. Stop. Restart. Different mistake. Stop. Restart. First mistake again, then a new one. Stop. Restart. Again and again.

I wondered: was that me so many years ago? Sure it was. I recalled those days of instruction. This child I was hearing may compete in the Cliburn someday or may quit piano as soon as Mom lets him. Or maybe he'll be just good enough to play the family Christmas carols once a year. However it turns out, my hope for him is the same for you, that something triggers or re-triggers a love and passion for music that that can't be ignored and that never escapes.