The Piano

“A picture is worth a thousand words” as the adage goes. (You’re limited to the space provided, however.) Attach a photograph (either online or hard copy with the paper application) no larger than 5 x 7 inches that represents something important to you, and explain its significance.

The announcer called my name.I walked up to the stage towards the piano. My footsteps echoed like a metronome through the grand performance hall at the University of Georgia. I had woken up early that morning in January 2002 to spend a couple of hours warming up ahead of a competition for which I had spent the last six months preparing and dreading. I was representing the State of Virginia at the Southern Division of the National Baldwin Piano Competition. This was my first regional piano competition since I started playing the instrument at age three. I felt all of my life’s work in music culminating in this defining moment. Such a burden rested heavily on my shoulders as I made my way across the large stage, feeling not ready at all, wishing I had more time to practice.I felt the impatient stares and heard the obligatory clapping of the audience, and responded with a feigned smile and bow. I sat down on the uncomfortably hard bench and rubbed my sweat-drenched hands against my pants which made it even worse. My heart was beating audibly and my mind raced through all the piano lessons and all the hours of practice in a desperate attempt to remember everything. I noted how ridiculously cumbersome and restrictive my tuxedo and dress shoes felt. Despite my piano teacher’s endless lectures on focus, I was decidedly unfocused. I brought my hands over the keyboard and held them there as I listened to the pounding of my heart – boom-boom – and pondered my eventual success or doom. Then, suddenly, my hands fell of their own will towards the keyboard.The moment the first keys were depressed, the hammers struck the strings, which resonated with an intense beauty. The series of octaves at the beginning of Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major served as a grand opening to my program. The world around me soon faded into blackness and I was alone with my piano. I became consumed in the playful staccatos, the heartbreaking leggieros, and the thundering climaxes of the music. My anxiety slowly faded as I eased into what I love – creating music. I became one with the emotional drama of the music, my fingers mere extensions of the keyboard. Nearing the end of my final piece, a Prokofieff Sonata, I suddenly broke away from my fantasy and eagerly anticipated the conclusion of my best performance yet. My mind was already racing ahead to what lay ahead – the awards announcements.The sonata finished with a thundering fortissimo and the audience burst into applause. This time, I responded to the audience’s enthusiasm with a genuine smile and bow. I walked off the stage to greet my parents. What followed was an agonizingly long wait for the remaining contestants to finish playing. All the while listening, I was silently critiquing their performances, feeling great about my near ‘perfect’ playing, and certain that I would come in at least as an alternate, if not a finalist.When the awards finally came, I was stunned. I came in third. How could I only win third place? The question kept racing through my mind over and over again. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Why did I ever bother to compete?As my mind slowly went over the day’s events, I came to realize the superfluity of my performance anxiety. Sure, I like to win, but being a musician is much more than just winning competitions or gaining fame. It is about being able to savor a rare gift earned by years of practice and about spreading the joy of music to others. I had given my very best that day and I was honored to compete amongst the best of my peers. I left Georgia State University feeling humbled and yet victorious.Since then, I have gone on to win numerous regional and national competitions. However, every time I walk up the stage, I think of Georgia, and I remember one of the greatest lessons of my life. And instantaneously, my performance anxiety disappears. In its place is a natural outflow of what I love – music, shared freely and abundantly with the audience. I no longer worry about the outcome – I just enjoy myself. Strangely enough, the less I worry about winning, the more I win. Of all the performances and competitions I’ve participated in, Georgia sticks in my mind as the most memorable.Losing is not failing. It reveals and defines the self more so than winning ever could. To me, Georgia was what I needed to push me to the next level of musicianship.

Leave a Comment