Getting In v. Fitting In


Earlier this year I applied to get into the piano performance and interpretation seminar at NECthe New England Conservatory

As I read the class description, I thought I should get in and fit in because it sounds like it’s designed for someone like me.

It reads:

“ This class, designed for intermediate to advanced level performers, will address technical, stylistic and conceptual issues in order to deepen participants’ musical understanding and provide an artistic context to their repertoire. Practice techniques, performance preparation and learning to “own the stage” will also be addressed.”

“Perfect.” I said to myself.

I am an advanced intermediate level player, I want to develop better practice techniques, deliver better performance musically and artistically. And perhaps more importantly, I want to learn to “own the stage!”

I don’t mean to sound egotistical. Quite the opposite – I have been suffering from stage fright and performance anxiety in the past two years. Instead of  “owning the stage”, the stage overwhelms me.

You would think that the more I study and practice, the better I get? Well, not exactly. My progress is not always linear or irreversible. There are times when I show dramatic progress to my piano teacher in class or private practice at home, yet I often fail to manage my nerves, or maintain my focus during performance.

With that in mind, I applied to the class.

But, I didn’t get in. I’d already missed the audition, which occurs only once a year in the Fall.

“What a bummer! This would have been a great fit for me!” I remember feeling bumped out.

But now several months later, with the passage of time and hindsight, I am glad I didn’t get in.

I would not have fit in. I was not ready for that class.

As it turns out – the six students admitted into this piano seminar are highly accomplished and experienced. Their repertoire is more advanced than mine, and their approach to the piano – their ease, confidence and poise – is also far more mature than mine.

How did I find out?

While I was too late for the audition, I was able to audit this seminar after passing an hour-long screening last February to get into a private piano class. With a private teacher giving me undivided attention for the past three months, I have learned how to focus intently on the music, my playing and my bad habits– technically and physically. Why do I always trip up in my fingering? My thumb was not relaxing. It’s mechanical. And why do I always stop in the middle of a long cadenza? I was running out of breath. It’s physical. I’ve discovered all kinds of roadblocks to producing better quality tone and sound because I was in a one-on-one environment where I can’t compare with others to assess my competence, but can concentrate on developing better skills. As it turns out, this was exactly the right fit for me at this stage of my piano study.

But I haven’t forgotten the value of observing and learning from others. During the numerous occasions when I sat in on this piano performance and interpretation seminar, I realized what a blessing it was that I didn’t get in. I wasn’t equipped with the musical understanding and self-awareness to practice and perform at that level.

But watching them play and learn on the sidelines as an auditor offers me a completely different perspective on what it takes for me to get to where I want to be.

Approaching what we want with a mind that can let go is never easy. But the natural flow of events often has a way of showing us where we really fit in and grow best, at whatever stage of life we find ourselves.

Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is