Piano (Wo)man

As part of community prayer a few weeks ago, I presented the other three Wexfordites with copies of their House of Brigid application essays – something none of us had really looked at or thought much about since our interviews.  This was especially true for me, since, having interviewed in February 2013, these musings were nearly two years old.  I wanted each of us to reflect on the things we had written about and to ascertain whether or not we were working towards the “goals” we had set out for ourselves.  If we were, what more could we do?  If we weren’t, why?  Reflection, (especially the spiritual sort,) is something that I have found to be an extremely useful tool while working in ministry.  I was eager for each of us to see if we were even somewhat on the roads we had laid out for ourselves.

I actually laughed out loud at one particular part of my essay:  “If I were selected, my personal goals would include deepening my Catholic faith, deepening others’ faith through the power of music, and working on my piano skills.”  I think the first two have happened for me nearly continuously over my year-and-a-half here so far.  However, the last one is something that is still an everyday struggle for me.  Not having begun to study piano until university, sitting down and accompanying a choir doesn’t come naturally to me.  I wrestle with my deep sense of vocation to parish music ministry versus the simple fact that I am not an accomplished pianist, usually the top requirement for most Director of Music positions in American parishes.  It was even a concern I raised in my Teach Bhríde interview, though I was assured that my lack of piano accompaniment skills wouldn’t outweigh the other gifts and talents I’d be able to bring to the group.  Though I knew I would still bring valuable ability to the team, I also knew I’d have to continue studying piano in an effort to make myself more useful in that area.

Thanks to a random connection, my conducting and choir professor at Saint Mary’s was able to put me in touch with a Wexford woman who would become my piano teacher as soon as I arrived in Ireland.  Since September of my first year, I have been taking (almost regular) lessons with Sue, whose sons I work with at Kennedy Park and whose husband is a member of the Folk Group.  Though I’m certainly a non-traditional student in many ways, Sue has definitely helped me gain confidence behind the keyboard.  I went home this past summer on a mission.  There I was, plunking away at my late grandmother’s baby grand, trying my hardest to connect the notes on the page to my fingers on the keys.  I came back for my second year more certain in my ability to at least play the hymns for daily mass.  Sue’s decided to push my limits even further, and I’ll be sitting the ARBSM piano exam in 2015.  Though I still long for the day when I can sit and just play, I know these many hours of practice will help me towards that.

Recently, though, I had a small victory.  In Advent, Teach Bhríde leads a series of Eucharistic Meditations on Tuesday evenings in lieu of the evening mass.  We combine song, scripture, and silence in order to provide people with a Holy Hour dedicated to this wonderful liturgical season.  Since each of us is in charge of a different week, it’s up to us to organize and execute our own night.  I knew this would be musically challenging for me because of the whole piano thing.  But, I carefully chose the music, practiced for hours beforehand, and actually went into the night singing three songs while accompanying myself on the piano.  They weren’t just hymns, either!  I did O Come, O Come, Emmanuel; Joe Mattingly’s On That Holy Mountain; and Janèt Sullivan Whitaker’s In Every Age.

Were they done perfectly?  Hardly.  Did I stop playing once or twice and keep singing until my fingers found the right place again?  Most definitely.  But, at the end of the day, I did it.  When I arrived in Wexford last year, there was absolutely no way I could’ve done something like that.  Even the suggestion of it probably would’ve had me on the first plane back home.  But, the fact that I can do it, even to this minimal degree, is actually a huge victory for me in many, many ways.  Each day it gets a little easier, and, admittedly, a little more fun!  I’m so grateful to be in an environment where I have such a wonderful teacher, a great support system in my community members, and a parish team willing to deal with a few missed notes in order to let me grow and learn.

I laughed when I read the bit in my essay about “working on my piano skills” because I have done so, but most definitely not in the way I first imagined it!