In a community college recital hall last Wednesday, I had one of my most incredible, moving, and unusual performances so far. After four years of being the underaged face of the Music Department, it was my final public appearance. In a wild ride of a recital, I debuted my two most recent piano compositions, “Equinox” and “Precipice.”
I find that when I perform, I always play my pieces better and with more expression than I do at home, because I’m so in-the-moment. Does that ever happen to you?
As I began my first piece, “Equinox,” I already felt like I was in another world, but yet, I knew the audience had come with me. As the piece unfolded, we all stayed right there, together in the moment. But do you think I would write a post without an unexpected twist?
Suddenly, as I was nearing the final cadence, the power went out. The room was black, except for some dim, evening sunlight peeping through an open door. In an instant, I thought to myself, “Funny. Oh, well—I probably don’t need to see the keyboard, anyway, since I’ve played this so many times.”
In the darkness, I heard a concerned audience shifting in their chairs, wondering what was going on. I did my best to keep playing as if nothing had happened. After I hit the final chord, the power came back—an impossibly well-timed cue! Some people even asked me later if I had meant for the lights to go out. Go with whatever comes at you onstage. If you make it seem like no big deal, the audience just might believe it was part of the show.
After several other performances from my peers, it was time to debut “Precipice” to close out the program. I was more nervous at this point, because I had just made some changes to the composition a few hours beforehand. Plus, it was an extremely demanding piece—physically, emotionally, technically, and expressively. But this was it; I was committed.
Boom—down went the opening, low E minor chord. No turning back now. By the time I followed with the heartbreaking, dissonant flat-9 in the right hand, the audience was gripped; perhaps by this point they had come to expect the unexpected…
So much was going through my mind throughout the piece: “Arm weight… Use your arm weight. Accent this—no, not quite so much… Look up—now look at the keyboard… Left foot on middle pedal—right foot on sustain now… Slowly release… 1 & 2 & 3 & GO…” Strangely, it also felt like I wasn’t thinking at all, because I was in the moment. It seemed like I was “feeling” more than “playing.”
“Precipice” came from a difficult time in my life, but when I’m at home practicing it, I often don’t think about what caused me to write it. However, at the recital that night, the emotions came back to me, and I played it like I had never played it before.
After eleven minutes of dissonance and resolution, of tension and release, and of despair and hope, I played the final chords and was utterly exhausted—in so many ways. I had left it all on the stage. As I got up from the piano bench to take a bow, I looked around and saw much of the audience was in tears. Several people came up to me aftwards and said the piece had made them cry. I was stunned.
How often does that happen with a piano composition? I’ve seen crying a few times at large concerts, but my own solo piece at a community college recital? Did I really just touch my audience that much? Did I really write something that powerful? I still cannot believe it.
As an artist, I dream about writing music that means something to people and touches them. When something like this happens, or when people simply tell me how much a song means to them, it is extremely gratifying. This is what artists live for—to make something that matters. And when music has come as a result of a tough time in my own life, to have it touch people is better than a silver lining—it’s pure gold.
I will never forget Wednesday night. What a way to end this four-year chapter of my life—and to start a new one. I am so greatful for the amazing opportunities I have had during these past four years as a homeschooler at community college. And I cannot wait to see what will happen next, as I move towards the stage of Nashville…