Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 159: Why I love NY (or how not to be precious)

Last night I found myself in a little park at the corner of 2nd Ave and 10th Street, eating a frozen yogurt and listening to someone play a very out-of-tune piano.  Yes, a piano, outside, in the park.  It is part of the Play Me, I'm Yours art project going on in NYC until July 5th (click on the link for more info).  These pianos are located in various places around the city, for anyone to come and play.  The pianos will be donated to schools and community organizations after the project is over.  This is exceedingly cool on more fronts than I can count.

So there I was, at 11pm on a warm summer night, outside listening to a couple of very talented pianists taking turns playing songs they knew.  There wasn't a line of people waiting to play, so they kept switching off and trying to remember more pieces, sometimes more successfully than others.  There was a nice, shifting crowd of people around, thoroughly enjoying the free entertainment (despite the rather dismal quality of the piano itself).  I finally got the guts up to play the one song I know by heart (Solfeggietto by CPE Bach, which I learned in probably 4th grade and is, sadly, still the only piece I know by heart on the piano).   I was wishing that I knew the accompaniment to some of my own songs so I could play and sing something.  My boyfriend then reminded me that one of the pianists had been playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow earlier, so I asked him if he'd be willing to play it for me while I sang.  We negotiated keys for a moment (which proved to be completely pointless, given how far off from true pitch the piano was), and then performed together.
As soon as I started singing, everyone from the sidewalk moved in and gathered around closer to listen.  Despite the tempo being a mile off from what I normally do, and god only knows what key I was actually singing it, it felt wonderful.  My voice was easy and free, the pianist and I were listening to each other and making music together, and the crowd was rapt.  It was a glorious moment, and one that is hard to imagine happening anywhere besides New York.

It is only in the last couple of years that I have found the freedom to sing spontaneously like that.  I took my singing so seriously and was so self-conscious about it being "perfect", that I was uncomfortable singing off the cuff.  Now, it is one of my favorite things to do.  Having taken the pressure off of myself to make money as a singer, I can truly just enjoy the art for the art's sake, and rest comfortably knowing that even if it is not "perfect", it is pretty damn awesome and people enjoy it.  Including me.

I don't ever want to become as precious about my playwriting as I used to be about my singing.  I met someone recently who will be going to grad school for playwriting in the fall, and I thought "wow, people go to grad school for this thing I'm just doing."  For a moment, I thought perhaps it was a bit arrogant of me to think I could do this thing - and do it well - without more formal study.  But I actually think my lack of formal training is a big leg-up for me: I am not "in my head" about my writing, not over-analyzing, over-working, trying too hard.  Which is - I know now - a lot of what held me back as an opera singer.  But with my writing, I go by instinct.  A life spent in the theater has taught me what makes good theater, so I know if what I'm writing works or not (and trust that).  I am also writing purely for the joy of it.  While I won't lie and say I don't dream of winning a Tony for best play, my main drive for writing is not fame and fortune.  I know all too well how elusive those are regardless of how talented and driven one might be.  And little moments like last night are a great reminder for me of the most important reason why I do this crazy thing called art: to bring people together.
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