I am a classical music nut. I routinely fall in love with women who are concert pianists and violinists and cellists. (Not that any of them are any the wiser, of course. I'm a quiet fanatic.)
I played violin when I was young, through college. And I also play the piano. I began taking lessons again in January after a long hiatus. I absolutely love playing - I can get so lost in it, that mesmerizing combination of logic and rhythm and melody and ethereal magic. Of course, my own playing is frustrating nearly as often as it is satisfying, because my fingers won't quite cooperate with the perfect tune in my head. But oh, those moments when it works: it makes it all worthwhile.
I heard Jeffrey Kahane play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Santa Rosa Symphony recently. I had never heard him play before, and I had never heard the "Rach 3" - I overheard another patron referring to the concerto this way, and sure enough, upon doing research, found that this is what the "in the know" people say!
It was incredible, listening to him play. His touch was so masterful, the range of dynamics so broad, his ability to both sing out the melody line and subdue the accompanying hand, switching back and forth - I was intensely envious. He made it all look so easy! I am currently working on a Chopin waltz, and although I am beginning to master the notes, the mechanics, I have not even begun to be able to interpret it, to explore it, through the full range of its possibilities.
After that night, I wanted to get a copy of the concerto. I often play classical music in the car during my commute to Calistoga. I went to The Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, the best place around to actually talk to a live person who knows something about music. Searching through the database, we discovered that there was a rendition of the Rach 3 by Martha Argerich, an Argentinian who happens to be one of my favorite pianists - I fell in love with her renditions of Chopin, and have a couple of those CDs. My infatuation with Chopin is largely due to her. My last recital piece was one of Chopin's Preludes. During the weeks before my recital, I played her CD with the Preludes over and over and over again, trying to soak in her style and translate it into something with my own hands.
So tonight, driving home, I was listening to Martha Argerich play the Rach 3 for the first time. It opens with a simple, lyric, heartbreakingly sad melody, which recurs periodically throughout the piece. But from there, it goes everywhere - driving, mad, rushing notes, waterfalls of scattering rain, swelling crescendoes and decrescendoes, moving in and out of the rest of the orchestral sound. It is stunningly beautiful.
No matter how long I practice, I will never be able to play like that. But because I play, in my own imperfect, beginner way, I am always expanding my ability to hear the music of others. That is the gift of practice: opening myself up to beauty. That's good enough.