My Piano Saga....and a new CD

    Becoming an artist and maintaining an artistic career is not for the fainthearted or the weak...that is the first advice I would give to anyone who wants to become a performer or creative artist. I have met many artists who survived unbelievable trials and obstacles in order to live out their passions and dreams. I am not sure if I have met even one who had a lifetime of ease and who accomplished their goals without hardship. When I began piano lessons at age eight, I already considered myself to be a composer and I knew I wanted music to be my career. As the years went by I realized, with increasing clarity, that skimping on practice sessions or expecting everything to happen automatically was not in the cards. As an adult I took devious pleasure in reading that Artur Rubinstein hated to practice. Somehow it felt like a validation of my own pantheon of excuses for not staying in the practice room long enough. But he practiced anyway, as much as he needed to. That enabled him to become probably the greatest performer of Chopin's music who ever lived.

     Even as I became more devoted to truly working hard at the piano, I became somewhat lax as a composer. I was always able to write music so effortlessly that I presumed I did not need to put in the long, tedious hours of hard work such as those that were required to use my piano skills. Many years later, though, I began to realize that I had passed up many opportunities to have my music shared more widely, simply because I took it all for granted. Even today, I have compositions I wrote years ago which have been heard by very few people. The road to being a concert pianist seemed so much more difficult than composing, so that is where I had always invested the bulk of my time.

     But eventually I began to face obstacles which were truly a threat to being a professional pianist. I was born with a slightly unusual hand structure which means that on occasion, some of my fingers will lock on me for no apparent reason. I have been assured that this is not the result of playing the piano, but rather an impediment to doing so. There is no satisfying medical explanation and no real cure. It may be vaguely related to primary dystonia; the jury is still out on a final diagnosis. The point is that over the years I have had to deal with locked fingers, occasionally even during a performance. Over many years I have had to learn how to nurture my hands and control my fingers so that this would not stop me from performing.

     Like all humans, I have had to deal with other complications and challenges along the way. There is no need to go into detail...we have all had our challenges and setbacks which have kept us from reaching some goals. But in the arts, failure to reach a goal, or frustration along the path, can be far more discouraging than it might be in a less public, more routine and less demanding occupation. The good news is that with perseverance and a passion that will not die, an artist can eventually reach high goals and achieve tremendous things. During the last few years, even the last few weeks, I have begun to experience some of this belated achievement and accomplishment. Almost suddenly, I am receiving more congratulatory mail and feeling a new level of success. I finally did what I had thought of doing decades earlier: I recorded a CD containing nothing but some of my own piano music. Now in my practice sessions, I find that my memory and technique are more assured than ever before. Recently it was pointed out to me that I may have the largest repertoire of music by living composers than any other active professional overwhelming distinction that I must now try to live up to. 

     The path is never all roses...there will still be challenges, and I will still need to put in many long and sometimes tedious hours of work. But I may humbly say that I am on a pinnacle which feels pretty darned good! All those years of repetition and dedication are paying off. I remind myself continually how fortunate I am to be an artist, to be able to get inside music and really live it, and especially to be able to share it with people who appreciate it and are inspired by hearing it. 

     I could have quit long ago. I could easily have stopped practicing ten thousand times. I have always had some other means of earning a living, other ways to enjoy life. But I was born to play music, to create, and not for a moment would I consider giving it up. It is a long and very demanding road, this arts thing. But it is hard to imagine anything more satisfying, than when a person pulls this off throughout an entire lifetime. I celebrate my good fortune by donating all proceeds from the sale of my piano music CD to young artists, those who are at an early place on that very long road. They, and I, are the lucky ones. My reward is theirs to keep.

James Gibson


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