Sunday, January 22, 2012


My parents always maintained that they sat through all my piano recitals and National Guild competitions in a state of anxiety almost on par with mine.  I appreciated their concern, but I didn’t know the agony of watching someone else perform until I started running experiments.

I’m partway through a day of testing right now, and I am in so much pain.

My brain is tired of silently urging people to look at the screen, please.  Look!  You’re missing the cue.  Now stop tapping your foot.  Stop tapping your fingers.  Oh, please don’t start singing… Why are you pressing the ‘same’ button when you’ve only seen the first of four letters?  This is not a test of psychic ability…  Can you go a bit faster?  Just a bit?  It’s not going to get easier to remember those tones the longer you sit and stare at the screen… And why are you adjusting the headphones in the middle of a trial?

I’m camping out at a weekend conference type thing for chamber musicians today.  My participants are, shall we say, and with all due respect to the baby boomers and their parents, from a generation that did not grow up using computers.  Four of my six so far today have read the instructions, then looked down at the keyboard and asked, “Where are the same and different buttons?”

I told one guy to click on the buttons when they came up on the screen.  He reached out with his finger and tried to press them.

I gave up on trying to read about harmonic expectations and motor planning partway through Participant No. 1 so I could concentrate on mentally shouting at him to stop trying to talk to me between trials.  Participant No. 2 required supervision in pressing the mouse button and Participant No. 3 was sighing so emphatically that it took all my mental resources to silently convince her not to give up.

I also understand now why my parents were so often willing to go out for ice creams and lunches after those recitals.  Is this ever hungry work.  Later, when I’ve been fed, I know I’ll be flooded with joy over the fact that I had seven participants in one day.  That’s an all-time record.  Times two plus one.  For now, I’m going to go back to silently beseeching Participant No. 6 to stop furrowing her brow at the screen and press the goshdarn ‘different’ button.

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