I heard Dr. John Mortenson discussing how to approach unplayable passages in piano compositions.
I was struck by the fact that he labeled some passages as “unplayable.” I didn’t know professional musicians ever confronted such things. I believed they found all music playable and that nothing was impossible for them. They’re not like us mortals and amateurs who often struggle with the simplest combinations of notes. But if he says some passages are unplayable, perhaps we’re not so very different.
It’s not just musical passages that are impossible. We have other impossibilities in our lives. Just look at the projects you’ve put off for months or years. You’ve dismissed them as too difficult, requiring too much time, or to be saved for another day. They’re in your “some day” box. You’ll get to them when you have more time, when other things get completed, when the children leave home, or when you retire. The truth is that if you saw these projects as possible, rather than impossible, you would already be working on them. You might have even accomplished them. But there they sit. In the garage. On the top closet shelf. In the Land of Wishful Thinking. In the Country of Some Day. On the Planet of Overwhelm.
As I listened to Dr. Mortenson, I realized the difference between mortals and professionals is in how we approach our impossibilities. He already had credibility with me when he admitted there were such things as unplayable passages. I’m sure I find many more unplayable passages than he does, but that’s irrelevant. The point is what do you do when you’re up against an impossibility?
The easy solution is the push it aside, walk away, and announce, “It’s impossible! It can’t be done!” A door slam helps. You can refuse to confront the situation.
But there’s another option. Of course it requires work, consciousness, determination, perseverance, and fortitude. It’s not for sissies or the weak of heart. It’s for those who believe more is possible.
Here’s my paraphrase of Dr. Mortenson’s suggestions for confronting the impossible:
Acknowledge and own your feelings of overwhelm. Once you own your feelings, you can begin to change your thinking and your behavior.
Believe accomplishment is possible.
Divide and conquer. Work in tiny bits and pieces. Accomplish small things, one at a time. Eventually they will accumulate into something larger. Work like a tortoise, slow and steady
In his Prelude in C# minor, Opus 45, Chopin wrote a cadenza with 126 chords, with most notes marked as accidentals. I learned the chords, two at a time, until I could finally put them together in larger groups. Speed came weeks later.
Plan and organize with the end in mind. Know what you want when all is said and done. Make your efforts intentional.
Practice, even in tedious slow work, with the sound you want to hear in performance. Scan photos or write text knowing how you want the finished product to look. Visualize your organized closet.
Persist, in spite of setbacks, obstacles, and discouragement. Keep showing up. Eventually you will climb the mountain.
Impossible is a state of mind.
Possible is showing up and doing the work.
Until next Tuesday . . .