Übung – German for ‘practice’ – is both one of the earliest words I learned in German, and perhaps the first time I consciously heard the concept of regular, focused repetition as the means to an end. In this case, the means to playing a simple tune on the piano. I can’t recall just WHAT I practiced and eventually played. I do, however, clearly recall the circumstances that motivated me.
I was living in Germany, just turned 9, and the two girls of the family I stayed with both took piano lessons with Fräulein Weniger. She was lovely, the kind of European woman I since came to admire greatly: hearty, demanding, attractive in a firm no-nonsense kind of way – and smelling deliciously of a particular perfume that will always conjure this memory. As for practicing: the old upright piano resided in the parental bedroom, which meant practicing by day when Rolf was at the chem lab. Anytime he was home there was strict silence, strict adherence to his schedule and needs, strictness, period.
So perhaps my earliest associations with practice align with strictness, a certain harsh rigidity alongside a certain soft femininity that co-existed silently, secretly, securely in my heart. Another prompt, that. Continue reading