Daily Practice: Forgive

A very long time ago (April 20, 2017) I began this post. And then I didn’t publish it; I mentioned that in the blog over a year ago. And now I have no idea why I didn’t publish it. So here it is!


Have I mentioned yet today how much I love playing Forgive?

I love playing Forgive!

Love love love love love it!!!

I think I have mentioned before that the 2 most lush pieces that I’ve ever composed — in my opinion of course — are Forgive & the arrangement of Londonderry Air. BOTH FOR LEFT HAND ALONE!!

I didn’t really believe that I could play Forgive at a performance level. It features arpeggios, which I’ve always considered the bane of my existence as a pianist. Poor training when I was a kid (no arpeggios at all that I remember; although in Mrs. Unger’s defense I must admit that I quit lessons just about when arpeggios would have been on the curriculum; so maybe she was or maybe she wasn’t avoiding them. I have certainly avoided them!)

[True, and marginally on topic, story: One of the pieces I performed on my master’s recital, a millennium & a lifetime ago, was Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor, WoO 80. Theme: very Baroque! 1st variation: arpeggios in RH. 2nd variation: very similar arpeggios, now in the LH. 3rd variation: oh hey, now BOTH hands are playing the arpeggios, in opposite motion! What fun!

Variation 1: I was good with that one. Variations 2 & 3 were more ... shall we say ... hit or miss. Not for lack of practice*, but for lack of confidence. I didn’t really believe I could play them accurately, and all too often that turned out to be true. 

There I was, playing my master’s recital, just about to begin Variation 2, when I suddenly realized that it was just as easy to land on the correct notes (which I had practiced & practiced & practiced) as it was to land on any other notes. So, I decided I would; and I did. I played variations 2 & 3 beautifully on my recital. I don’t frankly recall anything else about the Beethoven that night. (I recall only one other thing about that recital at all, which is its own story for another occasion.) 

Happily, I have carried that liberating realization with me into this new millennium: having done the practice and cultivated the ability to play the correct notes, it is just as easy to play the right notes as the wrong ones, no matter what else is going on. It is a decision on my part to do that and only that. I have tried to convey this to my students; I hope that it’s among the (probably very few) musician advantages I have been able to give them.

*yes, Vicki, I could have practiced them even more, that’s true.

End of marginally on topic story.]

So, I didn’t really believe that I could play Forgive beautifully, because arpeggios galore. But, those arpeggios are so beautiful! I wanted to get over my reluctance to try, and I used the occasion of the broken right wrist earlier this year to practice this left hand music.

Composing Forgive

I composed Forgive for Verbs, back in 2007. I remember only a little bit about what I was up to with this piece. It was summer already and I was on deadline for Keith, as he was planning to premiere the first 12 Verbs (what we now call Book 1) at the PMTNM conference in early November that year. One does prefer to give one’s performer a chance to learn the music before the premiere! 

I remember idly wondering if I could start with something the LH typically does—some Alberti bass pattern or another—and then add the melody on top, primarily with the thumb. Which idea yielded the first 20 measures or so of music.

I remember remembering a love song I had written in college with a beautiful melody, that was not going to be sung ever (lyrics aren’t that strong, and I don’t sing in public except to be amusing), and deciding to recycle the melody into Forgive, for a second theme.

I remember Keith requesting more arpeggio-ey writing.

And that’s it. I have the melody of the opening theme in a handwritten sketch. I have one alleged draft in Sibelius that nearly matches the finished form. I have nothing that shows how I got there. I just have this completed music.

I do remember after I completed it—August? the Sibelius draft was begun in July—having a long chat with Keith on the phone where he, R-T-G, & I passionately discussed the title, which according to my draft was originally Soothe. This music is way beyond soothing! We all had a feeling that the music had even gone beyond the scope of forgiving. But we couldn’t agree on another verb that was better; and truthfully, now I am very glad we kept this verb for the title.

Forgiveness should change us. Forgiveness should include a transformation, a redemption, a release.

Forgiveness should set us free.

Forgive, from Verbs, performed by Keith Porter-Snell.
Composed by Kathleen Ryan, © 2008 Indigo Mesa Music, all rights reserved.

Learning to (play) Forgive

So: arpeggios! There I am at the piano, this past January (note: January 2017, while R wrist was healing from being broken), reading through Forgive and hoping against hope that I could someday make some music with these notes, when I realized that, for me, the key to performing Forgive would be to be completely comfortable and confident of the arpeggio that first appears in M21 and occurs frequently after that.

Forgive arpeggio


That arpeggio became my daily practice, just like meditation and prayer are daily practices for me. Every morning many many times up the piano, 2 Ab major open triads arpeggiated, one root position, one second inversion. Sometimes up and then back down (that was tricky at first, I didn’t want to finger both directions the same way; and what would be the point if they weren’t fingered identically?!) Slowly, comfortably, happily; in a soothing fashion, in fact. I did this for a couple of weeks before I looked at the rest of the music, and I still do it many times each day. Now I usually play mm 22-23 fully; and again; and again; and again. I like playing them. Also, on my Steinway this register is amazingly beautiful; the Ab arpeggio rings and rings and rings. It even sounds good with no pedal. It even sounds good with the metronome clicking. It even sounds good in broken rhythms. It rings beautifully no matter what I do, and so I do all those things that allow me to master the physical skill.

I’m actually a little bit surprised I ever got to practicing the rest of Forgive, as I enjoy these 2 measures so much. I could play them forever. (This happened when I was making up What the Stars Saw on the Prairie, too: the transitional music at the close of the opening song was completely fascinating to me, and I played just those four chords for a couple of months before I was ready to make up the rest of the piece.)

There are other arpeggios and arpeggiated runs in Forgive, of course; but this was the one that held the key for me. I have loved this daily practice; it puts me in charity with my piano, with myself, and with the world. Through this daily practice, I have actually forgiven myself for my reluctance to play arpeggios. And I think I’ve forgiven myself for a few other things, too.

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