During my recent "malaise", there were only two things I was able to accomplish (besides being drugged into oblivion and going to a therapist twice a week):
1. Read as much Shakespeare as possible
2. Try to play the piano...badly (One of the lovely side effects of lithium is that it gives you Parkinson's disease-like symptoms -- mainly, "The Shakes")
But that didn't stop me from trying. But in total insanity mode, I would wake up every morning and dig into Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, and I did that for about a year -- played nothing but that, and tried to commit it to memory, where there was no mental capability to memorize anything. All internal brain wiring was ripped out and basically I was playing with ten virtual thumbs.
As far as piano playing goes, even when I'm at my unmedicated bi-polar manic-stage, "normal" precision best, my nickname is "mittens"....so during this period, I guess you could call me "boxing gloves".
If you asked me to sit down and play it today, I couldn't. Of the countless hours spent on it (6 to 8 hours per day, for a YEAR), nothing stuck. This was a total exercise in absolute futility on all fronts.
Maybe someday I'll realize this exercise may be informing me, musically or otherwise, in future creative endeavors, but at this point, I couldn't tell you what that benefit will be exactly. I just love Beethoven; his music is "soul enriching" and I needed nourishment badly. Maybe by hatcheting through his music as meditation for a year, somewhere out there in the Universe, he knows just how much I love him.
I'm known as a "Blues/Rock and Roll/Funky New Orleans" piano stylist....so what does Beethoven have to do with that?
I have no clue. I just go where the wind blows, musically speaking. No input, No Output, but the direct effect on "output"? Anybody's guess. It's just good music.
So recently, I've been re-visiting my old pal Freddy Chopin. I have always wanted to play the twenty-four etudes
from memory, and this has been a guilty pleasure of mine for years (up until I got derailed by the works of Uncle Ludwig).
Rebuilding facility to play these things is always a drag. I learn about four of them, stop playing them for a year, and then re-learn them again -- over and over, always learning a couple more with each visitation.
But this visitation has been different. I'm actually starting to play the piss out of them. Confidence is high...and there are no wiring issues.
I guess this is normal to legitimate piano players who have been doing this their whole lives, but to me, a new experience in middle age.
The thing about Chopin is the "soul" contained within the flyspecks on the page. This is really early nineteenth century Polish "Soul Music". The feeling I get when listening to Ray Charles, Otis Redding, or Aretha (basically a pre-orgasmic tension and "chill", starting at the small of my back and creeping through and expanding through my entire body; the hairs on the back of my neck feel like they're standing on end) is the same feeling when I listen to Chopin when it's played with great artistic interpretation and commanding facility.
But now, I'm just starting to be able to do it myself, for myself...and I feel connected to the music in a visceral way...like I'm totally in his "soul"...a musical, spiritual, and physical "Vulcan Mind Meld"... the same feeling I get when I pull a solo out of my ass on the fly that even amazes...me.
I think that has always been the carrot that keeps me motivated, musically. Another expansion into the Universe, without a net. I don't always achieve that blissful state, but the few times that I do is enough to keep me plugging away.