I am beyond ecstatic about my Mother Earth project. The music is powerful and engaging. I’m including some old favorites and some fantastic new pieces that I’ve fallen in love with. There are pieces from eras gone by, and contemporary works. I’m playing pieces by composers who I admire from a distance, and others by composers who I count as dear friends. I was lucky enough to have my commission funded for a new work by Kaja Bjørntvedt, my dear Norwegian composer friend. (How Kaja and I met is a fun story that I’ll save for another time.) And all of them celebrate our beautiful planet—a perfect fit for this outdoorswoman. I’ve worked on many recording projects over the years, but this one feels more cathartic than the rest, perhaps because of what all I’ve gone through to get to this point.
The truth is, I’ve had this Mother Earth program on my mind for over six years. Back in 2011 when I conceived of it, I subsequently got busy adventuring with my trio-mates Maureen and Elisa, and didn’t have time to really sink my teeth into solo work. Chamber music is rewarding and fun and I readily poured all my energy into it. In addition, as a trio we had some pretty fantastic and unparalleled opportunities that we were able to take advantage of. Meanwhile, my solo project faded into the recesses of my mind. The collection of pieces for the Mother Earth program did shift and evolve over time, as I intermittently devoted stray thoughts towards which works I should include. I continued plotting, even though I couldn’t devote time to practicing it.
Finally, in the summer of 2017 I decided it was time for me to get back to my solo work for real. I stepped down from my role in the trio and decided to dive headlong into the Mother Earth pieces.
Then I injured my elbow. I wish I had a better story—like I fell while summiting a 12K foot peak, or I sprained it pulling a child from a burning car. In reality, I was working on a minor home improvement project and I twisted something a little bit too aggressively with a screwdriver. I felt a twinge at the time, but I didn’t think it would amount to anything. I was going on vacation the next day, so I figured that when I resumed my normal life after some down time I’d be good as new.
Fast forward a few weeks. I returned to Pittsburgh full of energy to dive into my new solo program only to discover that I couldn’t play the piano at all. I still optimistically thought it’d pass within a few weeks, so I waited. And waited. And then I waited some more. Any time I would practice even a little, the pain would skyrocket so that I couldn’t sleep at night. After about a month of this, I got depressed. I couldn’t practice, or do computer work (using a mouse or typing were equal pain triggers). I threw myself into my teaching and parenting in an effort to distract myself. But the truth was, I was scared. I started to wonder if I would ever be able to play again. The absurdity of the whole thing was not lost on me. The headlines playing across my mind read: Pianist ruins career attempting to fit a chain into an eye-hook. How idiotic.
By October I started seeing a physical therapist and obsessively doing the exercises she assigned me. It was two steps ahead, one back, for quite a while, but eventually around December things started heading in the right direction.
Sometime during this whole saga I wrote a quick note to my former teacher, Craig Sheppard. The note was unrelated to my injury and I can’t even remember saying anything to “tip him off.” However, Craig being Craig, he was somehow able to intuit that I had something major going on. I ended up spilling my entire story to him after his generous invitation to do so, and he shared several personal experiences that flooded me with hope. I fervently believe this conversation was the psychological turning point I needed to bolster my efforts toward recovery. It turns out that—surprise!—the blues didn’t really help to nudge me in the right direction.
At some point I was able to figure out that the pain was caused by tension in a particular part of my arm. As a piano teacher I deal with this sort of thing every single day, so I figured I would just have to teach myself the way I teach a beginner. So I did. I started with about 5 minutes a day, playing scales at a snail’s pace. Constantly checking and rechecking to obliterate any tension. Then I worked up to 10 minutes. The first day I was able to practice for a full hour felt like a revelation.
After that I was able to increase steadily until, by the end of February, I was back to being able to practice six or even eight hours with no adverse effects.
Recently I was reflecting on the state of the planet, which I have been doing even more than usual now that I’m working on my Mother Earth project. From the start, the motivation for my project has been to inspire a greater level of care towards the earth. I couldn’t help drawing an analogy to my own personal experience. Between pollution, global warming, deforestation, depletion of natural resources, and a host of other concerns, our planet is hurting too. We’ve injured it by doing silly “home improvement” projects.
Maybe it’s time to take a step back. We need to relearn our technique like beginners. Figure out how to do this earth-stewardship thing carefully and correctly. If we do it right, we may get back up to speed sooner than we think. Here’s to a full recovery for Mother Earth!
You can get a copy of the Mother Earth album by becoming a backer at my GoFundMe site. Early backers really mean a lot in a project like this. If you're planning to buy a copy of the CD, getting one by reserving early helps immensely with the initial costs of the production. Thanks for your support! Support the project at GoFundMe.