Desperation

Desperation is a strange thing.  It strikes you when you least expect it, usually at an inopportune moment and in such a manner that nothing can be done about it. Such was the case in the dark hours between Monday and Tuesday when I awoke at 3:00 in the morning to the sound of music running through my head.

Maurice Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante defunte (translated, Pavane for a dead princess) is, in my opinion, one of the all-time most beautiful works for solo piano. Be that as it may, I still cannot figure out why a piece that I have not heard in months suddenly forced its way into my head, jolting me from a delightful dream about being invisible.  I could not fall back asleep, despite all previously successful relaxation techniques.  My brain was active, and there was no way to turn it off. The haunting melody insisted upon repeating itself time and time again.

Perhaps, I thought, if I imagine the piece in its entirety, Ravel’s ghost will be satisfied and I can sleep again. And so I listened to the Pavane in my head from start to finish, imagining all the nuances, counterpoint and pedaling, every minute detail to which I had paid attention when I prepared and performed the piece about five years ago.  When I reached the end, I smiled at the prospect of impending slumber.

Unfortunately, this was not the case.  Sleep continued to escape me, and the Pavane insisted upon repeating itself once again.  However, since my brain had proven that it could in fact hear the entire piece, it decided that it would do just that: rather than repeating the first theme, as it had when I first awoke, the entire six minutes was repeated.

This is the point when desperation began to set in: not only was I desperate for sleep to return, but now I was desperate to actually play the piece.  I have found that this approach sometimes cures what I like to call “Broken Record Syndrome.” The obvious problem was that it was the middle of the night, and I respected my housemates and neighbors too much to wake them up just to appease Ravel’s ghost.  This, I thought, is exactly why I need a house to myself in the middle of the country, where the nearest neighbor is half a mile away. I made a decision: First thing in the morning, I would play.  Amazingly, that decision seemed to calm my brain, and sleep and I were able to find each other.

True to my word, when I awoke Tuesday morning, I immediately began leafing through the shelves in my bookcase, searching for the written music for the Pavane. My heart sank when I realized that it was not there.  I tore through my closet, where I keep boxes of random sheet music, hoping that I would find it there.  Much to my dismay, it had disappeared.  I resorted to downloading a free (meaning a blurry, small-printed scan from a bad edition) copy from the internet, so desperate was I to play the music.

When my fingers touched the keys, I was shocked at how much muscle memory had been retained over the years.  I glided through the first page with few mistakes, savoring the delicate sonorities.  My soul was finally a bit calmer.

I said before that desperation strikes at strange times.  I am forced to believe that this strike was no coincidence.  Take these points into consideration:

  • Tuesday evening, one of my more advanced students told me that she wanted to play the Pavane.
  • Two of the music publications I receive regularly will be featuring Ravel in the coming months.
  • Ravel’s birthday is in a couple of weeks (March 7).
  • Yesterday, a colleague asked me to participate in a recital featuring twentieth-century French piano music.
  • I have a gift certificate to a music store, which would enable me to replace the copy of the Pavane that I have misplaced.

Perhaps this is a sign that I should begin to study the piece again.

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