I played it again, then isolated the difficult parts and practiced each part alone. When the hard parts were mastered I started again and put the whole piece together until it flowed smoothly. This was the tedious part of playing the piano: practicing. By now I had played Beethoven’s Fur Elise, so many times that I heard it in my sleep.
This time at my lesson would my piano teacher, Steve, recognize how much effort I had put into playing this piece? The fingering, the left hand chords and the subtlety of transitions? The shading of tones and the rich feelings that Beethoven felt when he composed this beautiful music had to be interpreted and expressed by the performer. I was the 10 year old performer.
My harshest critic, Steve, would pronounce his verdict about my playing this piece. Today he will hear the version I will play, one week after my last lesson.
When he spoke he said the exact same words he used every single time I played a piece for him. “Not Bad.” Every lesson, every week, no matter how hard I tried to improve, his critique of my playing was always “Not Bad.”
So that was it? Not Bad? Could I ever do better? Or was the piano teacher simply telling me that my talent for the piano was mediocre and would probably never improve?
My life as a pianist ended shortly thereafter.
But how strange that over 40 years later, as I worked with a physical therapist, it all came rushing back. I was practicing standing on one foot at a time to improve my balance. After holding the one foot pose for the count of 10 before starting to wobble, she said, “Not Bad!”
We both had a good laugh, as I explained my history with the expression “Not Bad,”and continued the balance exercises.