Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done in 30 years. I attended a music festival, the Kitchener-Waterloo Music Festival. My niece was competing in a piano class and as the venue was just around the corner I decided to walk over and hear her.
I have very few pleasant memories of piano competitions and all of them are from before the age of 11 or 12. My sisters and I were usually entered in to as many classes in the festival as we could accommodate. I remember my first festival in London, Ontario, when I must have been 6 or 7 years old. I was in 6 classes in one day, an absurd feat of scheduling. I placed first in every one. It was the zenith of my career in competition. There were lots of other highlights over the next 5 or 6 years, but I never managed to fully dazzle in quite that way again.
In fact within a few years I found myself increasingly incapable of going on the stage. Perhaps I was unconsciously acknowledging a lack of preparation; my habits of practising did degenerate as I got older. It may have been something else entirely. I have not managed to ferret out precise causes. The experiences alone were bad enough. These days I think they might be described as panic attacks. Circumventing them required ever more extreme measures. By the age of 15 I was at an end and competed no more.
It has taken me almost 25 years to be able to even sit down with any degree of comfort at a piano keyboard. Thus the gifts we are given in our youth both bless and curse us.
So it was no small thing for me, though few might guess it to see me, to head over to the hall in which this present festival is taking place even though I was merely an audience member. My niece does not suffer from whatever hindered me. She acknowledges a flutter in her tummy but nothing more. She is lucky. Perhaps she will not need to set aside a formative aspect of her childhood and youth for the greater part of her life as I did. I hope not.
Memories – inchoate, unsavoury, uncertain. How do you turn them off, make them safe?