Category Archives: Piano Performance

My Personal Journey As a Pianist, Part 4

September 24, 2018

Culture and Society / Piano Performance

When you grow up on a tropical island surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, there is a part of you that will always live there no matter how far you go and how different your life becomes. I used to spend hours sitting on the beach, lost in my thoughts as waves crashed onto the shore.

When I left the island, I left my ocean-the place where I went so seek solace, comfort, and joy. I boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight when I was 17 years old with my tear-stained face. I said goodbye, begrudgingly and willingly. I knew that my whole life was about to change.

For a long time, I walked this earth without my ocean. I did not have a place where I felt grounded and safe, where I could feel calm and at peace.

Looking back, it was this emptiness I felt that drew me to the piano.

The piano became my ocean.

At an old church building where I once worked in Charlotte, NC, there was an upright Yamaha piano in the sanctuary that I discovered when I was wondering around on my break one day. Upon inquiring, the folks who ran that church told me that I was welcome to play it whenever I wanted as long as there wasn’t anyone using it to prepare for a service. I took their permission and ran with it.

I must have spent hundreds of hours–late nights, early mornings, late afternoons, evenings, and all points in between–playing that piano. I felt so safe sitting there, and it inspired me to play my own music. I composed the bulk of my first album “Seahorses” at that very spot.

From a sonic perspective, the piano can be as thunderous and as gentle as the ocean. There can be so much power with the touch of every finger. I could lose myself in its undulating rhythms and feel every bit of the emotion I poured into it coming back to me.

I found the piano at a time when I needed it, and at a time when I was in a dark place in my life.

I heard its crashing waves, and it heard my loneliness.

This instrument became my guiding force, my sense of safety, and my private haven from everything in my life that was going so wrong.

The piano continues to be all of these things and more.

I still miss the ocean, but thankfully, through the highs and lows in my life, I found something just as mighty and meaningful that sustains my spirit.

I sit at a piano, and I feel greater than and better than who I was before. I sit there for hours dreaming my dreams and lost in my thoughts. All of this crashes into me every time, and the air and space around me gets filled with sound.

Life doesn’t get better than this.

-Roqué



My Personal Journey as a Pianist, Part 3

September 16, 2018

Culture and Society / Intention / Piano Performance

There is one word that sums up the vast majority of my time as a pianist.

Practice.

Yes, lots and lots and lots of practice.

There is more practice than the time spent actually composing music, writing lyrics, being creative, and performing. It is time spent getting a fingering sequence to sound effortless on the piano, hours learning a new piece by playing it over and over again until it sounds and feels right, and fingering exercises to maintain and enhance the flow and dexterity of movement on the piano.

This is the part of being a musician that most people would find dull and uninteresting. The constant repetition of music and singing during practice would drive most people insane. It’s also not particularly glamorous. I actually like to practice in my pajamas and under the most mundane and comfortable conditions possible. If I am practicing a new finished piece that I am excited about, I will sit there for HOURS meticulously working on several details until I am playing it just right.

It is ironic that I put so much time into practicing now when it was the repetition of nursery songs when I was young that pushed me away from learning how to play. The difference was that, in time, I grew more patient, and I eventually recognized the deep value of practice.

Sure, practice makes perfect, as the cliché goes, but it’s actually about more than just getting better at playing. Over the years, I have found that those rare moments of inspiration-those lightning bolts of a new song that light a fire under you-they would not happen without the tedium and persistence of practice. The repetition and memorization buys you the physical space and time to seek out musical textures and understand them. You build this understanding into a personal catalogue in your musical brain.

It’s also like going to the gym for your fingers. You build muscles and muscle memory every time you repeat something. Your hands get stronger. Your body grows to know the rhythms, ebbs, flows, highs, and lows. Your ear grows more refined and selective.

Practice is the act of growing what you know, of cultivating an instinctual and multi-sensory language that only you can understand.

I practice every day, and I have done so for many years. If I do not manage to play on a piano for some reason, I try to play another instrument. My ukulele and cello enrich me as much as my first love.

For those of you who might be wondering, my piano practice is built on a foundation of fingering exercises from the book, Hanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises for the Piano. I have a vintage, old, and worn-out copy that I have used forever and a new one that I lend out to aspiring new pianists or for travel.  I have done these exercises so much that they feel more like meditation to me. I focus on the flow of movement of my fingers and the rest of the world fades out into the background.

I love to practice on the piano just as much as I love performing on it. Along with writing, it has served as the deeper infrastructure for all of my creative work.

I do it as constantly, vigilantly, and lovingly as possible.

-Roqué