I hate Chopin’s “Waltz in Eb Major,” for it has brought me nothing but grief. Indeed, it was the bane of my classical piano aspirations.
In the summer before my sophomore year in high school, I attended music camp at Northern Arizona University in cool, woodsy Flagstaff. It was sort of like band camp, I guess, except much hipper. I wouldn’t have been able to go, except I’d won a scholarship from the Yuma Area Music Educator’s Association.
I absolutely loved those two weeks away from home, on my own for the first time. I met all sorts of young musicians from across the state and sang at the end-of-camp show, one of the first times I’d ever shared a song of my own. I remember playing that same song in a practice room for a girl I’d met and wrote letters to for a few months afterward until the idea of a relationship fizzled out. (This was before email and texting. Wow, am I that old?)
We couldn’t afford the camp that next summer, and I had to wait to audition for the scholarship until the following year. For that audition I prepared the Chopin waltz, but the piece got away from me. I rushed through some of it and never could catch up to the tempo I’d begun racing to. I might have been too ambitious with my selection. Surely I would impress them with such a difficult piece. It’s not called “Grand Waltz Brilliant” for nothing. But alas, I failed at it.
I was hopeful, though, because the second part of the audition was sight reading, something I’d always been good at. However, perhaps in response to my overreaching, I was given a very difficult piece to sight read: a Bach fugue. Fugues, like a lot of baroque music, are polyphonic in the sense that music is streamed together in parts, as opposed to harmonic, where a melody lines dominates and harmony supports. So a fugue contains four individual parts written on two staffs, certainly an intricate sight read.
My piano teacher, a college professor who earlier in his career toured performing, was furious. And I was disappointed. So much for a retreat into the mountains, where I could have possibly played for another girl in another practice room.
Every once in a while, I’ll pull the sheet music out and play Chopin waltzes, but I usually opt for the others, ones that arouse less contempt.
Take a look at this video of a young guy playing the waltz. It’s blurry enough that I could picture myself back in high school. Is it acrimonious of me to appreciate his flub somewhere in the middle?