September 7, 2020

Laboring for Love

Today is Labor Day, and Tomoko exemplifies a strong work ethic. Referring to Millet’s painting “Man with a Hoe,” Tomoko notes how the worker holds his body. “He is tired after a day of harvesting. He is braced against a stick to hold himself up.” Tomoko knows the feeling of a long day of hard work.


Tomoko has never been afraid of hard work. She began teaching piano lessons as a teenager – and sixty years later she continues to do this, sharing a lifetime of experience and expertise.


Tomoko also knows that learning how to play the piano requires dedicated practice and work. When a piece has been mastered, playing it can bring instant gratification, but getting to that point of fluid performance can demand much time and effort, and in the process it can feel as if that day of mastery, those positive results, will never arrive. “Practice is like gardening,” Tomoko asserts. “You need to do it every day and pay attention to all the details.”  She adds, “It requires patience. Sometimes you don’t see the growth for a long time, but it is worth the ongoing effort.” Tomoko remarks, “Many people don’t plan for practice. Since I was 12 years old, I have planned time for practice.” That kind of discipline exemplifies Tomoko’s attitude to music and work.


Tomoko also passed this work attitude to her daughter Beata. Beata began serious skating at age 6, but didn’t compete until the U.S. Nationals, rather perfecting her form first. Tomoko supported Beata’s persistent interest throughout the school years, driving her to practice, and paying for lessons through teaching piano. Tomoko notes, “Both ice skating and piano require lots of sacrifice. Even one week without practice will be embarrassing.”


Performance requires even more focused work as the pianist – or the ice dancer -- has to analyze and master each piece.  The performer has to over-prepare so that the physical action is almost automatic, and the spirit of the work can be freely expressed. Both the stress level and the level of accomplishment are higher. But the payoff and the exhilarating feeling are worth the effort hopefully. The performer lives for this moment, and is IN that moment. All the components are there, "But reaches a higher energy plane," Tomoko explains. The playing itself is both automatic and intentional, precise and personal, deliberate and freeing. It is ultimately a universal yet intimate conversation with the audience. It is not like daily life. It is a heightened reality. Tomoko asserts, "It can be a mystical experience. An 'out of this world' performance."


So work becomes play, play that is hard earned.


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