When I awoke this past Sunday morning, I could feel a familiar clipped breathing and tight chest from performance anxiety. I was scheduled to play the Chopin Nocturne in C-sharp minor in public for the first time, at a mid-morning service at my church. I ran through the Nocturne in my mind, breathing deeply, exhaling with particular concentration when my mind played through the tricky sotto voce interlude.
My church, the First Congregational Church in Montclair, is welcoming, with a casual dress code. My plan was to debut the Chopin Nocturne in front of this friendly crowd. After six months of studying the Nocturne in my adult piano lessons, at least in theory I was ready to move the music from the cloistered privacy of my home to the outside world.
An hour before the service began, David, Cal, Mena, and I ate breakfast at Raymond’s, a cafe located a couple of blocks from our church. My stomach twisted at the thought of playing the Steinway, alone, in front of the congregation. While Mena chewed on French toast and talked about The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, the latest Nancy Drew mystery she was reading, I sipped peppermint tea to calm my stomach.
At ten o’clock, Mena and I skipped out early so I could run through the Nocturne on our church’s cantankerous Steinway grand piano. We crossed the street. On a grassy field in front of First Congregational, shaded from the tall stone church, yet lit by reflected rays of sunlight, stretched a swath of clean, pure white snow. The field looked iridescent. I felt my heart contract with wonder.
“Look at the snow,” Mena said, charging through the field in her boots. And even though Mena is in elementary school, and I am in my forties, I took in the view of the snow with her same wondrous appreciation. I felt alive inside. I was living this quiet moment with my daughter. I was about to play my Chopin Nocturne for other people. Coiled inside along with my fear of performing was the desire to share this music about which I felt so passionate.
My performance–during the meditative period after Reverend Ann Ralosky’s sermon–had some unpredictable moments, including bungling the two runs launched with triplets (I had nailed them in my lesson), but somehow managing the treacherous sotto voce with aplomb. Yet as expected, the experience allowed me to gauge my progress on the Chopin Nocturne, my weakness as well as pockets of strength. I was one step closer to making my music glisten pure white, like new-fallen snow.