creative tension

There is pressure that is deadly. There is stress that kills. We all know that.

There is, on the other hand, pressure that is, well, sheer music.

A piano has 88 keys. A piano has 228 strings (give or take). Those strings are under tension. They are built that way. That’s how the noise becomes music.

When a pianist presses a key, a felt-covered hammer hits the one, two, or three strings that are tuned to the same pitch, and there is a note.

There is pressure on the strings. There is pressure on the tuner to get the pitches precisely right. There is pressure on the pianist to get the notes right.

The result is music for the rest of us to delight in.

  • Sometimes we have to bring the tension down. Tim Walker talks about throwing away times from your to-do list.
  • Sometimes we have to bring the tension up.
  • Sometimes we have to find an outlet for the pressure before the strings break.
  • Sometimes we have to ask for help. (What becomes clear to everyone but us is when the strings or the tuning or the notes aren’t working.)
  • Sometimes we have to talk to the Piano Maker about why there needs to be so much pressure.
  • Sometimes we need to relax into the music. Nancy Swanson talks about letting go.

I’m not sure what the answer is for your piano right now. But between now and the end of the year, I pray that you’ll have time for tuning and practice and delight.

2 responses to “creative tension

  1. Piano tuners feel the tension to get all the string tensions right. Piano tuners also feel the reward of their labors, when they play the piano afterwards. I’ve never seen a piano tuner who didn’t play something beautiful, near the end of the process. Partly, it’s a way to verify the tuning, in a way that banging single notes, or even electronic instruments, can’t equal. But as well, it’s a reward for the work.

    You should ask whether you’re getting so well rewarded for your stress.

  2. That’s great, Jack. I had forgotten about that, but they do. And it’s fun to
    listen to then all along, looking unlikely, sounding wonderful.