Let them eat cake.
"That was terrible," my student said after playing a passage of her latest piece. Yes, she may have stumbled over a key or two, but the other 300 keys were played correctly. A little wobble on the rhythm and a pause in front of a dangerous leap (two octaves) halted, temporarily, the flow of the passage. But terrible? That’s harsh.
I think in her head "not perfect" equates to "terrible." I think her “terrible” equates to my “not-finished” or my “in progress,” like the dishwasher cycle when you can’t add more dishes.
Her playing sounded totally different to me than the “terrible” she heard. I could hear that the complex rhythms created by the combining of the right and left hands were understood. That her fingering was accurate, and that she understood the music in front of her on a deeper more substantial level than terrible would suggest.
"Think of cake." I said. Puzzled, she looked up at me.
"Imagine a finished cake. What does it look like to you?" I continued. After all, most people have an opinion on cake.
"Then, imagine making the cake. You get the ingredients, measure the ingredients. Mix up the ingredients- which could be done in parts, wet ingredients then dry ingredients, then you make a batter, right?"
"If I gave you a bowl of batter and asked you, 'what do you think of my cake?' you would probably think it was a trick question.”
"After all, batter isn’t cake." Though, quite frankly, cake batter can be very delicious. You would have a hard time putting candles in a bowl of batter at a 6 year old’s birthday party.
"The thing is, if I asked you 'what do you think of my batter?' and, it's mighty fine batter, you would probably say, 'It's mighty fine batter.' But, we both know that batter isn't cake."
To become a cake, the batter needs to be poured into forms, slid into a preheated oven, baked, cooled, taken out of the forms, plated frosted...
There’s no judgement about the batter. No one looks at the batter and berates it because it isn’t cake. Not the people who are going to eat the cake, and not the person who is making the cake.
By the end of the lesson my student was more accepting of her progress.
“It’s not cake, but it’s mighty fine batter.”