March 15, 2024

When everything goes wrong - coaching lessons from a pianist

Maria Joao Pires is a concert pianist and was asked to fill in for another musician on short notice. At any given time, she will know a few piano concertos by heart but, obviously, only one or two will be present enough for her to be able to play them in concert. When she got a call at 9 in the evening asking her if she could play Mozart’s piano concerto KV488 the next day to replace the other musician, she agreed, but misheard and prepared for KV 467, also in her repertoire.

The next day, she sat down at the grand piano in Amsterdam’s concert hall for the general rehearsal which was in front of 2000 people. The conductor raised his baton, and the orchestra began to play. Maria Joao Pires noticed immediately that this was not the concerto she was prepared to play. You can see and feel her response of desperation and shock in a video that went viral on YouTube:

What happened next is astonishing. The conductor whispered: “You can do this!” and Maria started playing. She had played this concert 10 months ago but really did not know whether she could pull this one off. Both concertos are about 30 minutes long and the pianist plays by heart. She did not know whether she would remember the piece or whether she would make a complete fool out of herself. She still showed up, though, and started to play.

Years later, Maria Joao Pires was interviewed by Classic FM’s Joanna Gosling about what she felt in the moment and how she was able to start performing: When asked how she practices focus and calmness, she replied: “I practice, yes, I do. I do a lot, even in my daily practicing or during concerts, during rehearsals I practice a lot. It is a little bit of meditation. It is like being focused but not being cut. Be in yourself but not cut from outside. You can listen, you can hear. You are conscious about all your surrounding – at the same time you stay with yourself. The answer comes. The answer is sometimes not only studying, analyzing the score but also being able to hear, to listen.”

I think that Maria’s words are applicable to coaches as well. When we are in situations which confuse us, when nothing goes “to plan”, we can remember to “be focused but not cut”. Our work is about connecting with others to help them grow. In difficult situations, it may be helpful to remember that we are in it together with our clients. And as we are practicing our craft, we can practice connected focus.

A concert pianist might see a performance as something that separates them from the audience. They might see themselves as someone who must provide a service, deliver a high-quality product and feel themselves judged and evaluated as they are performing. Or they can feel like they are in it together with the audience and are sharing a good thing to the best of their abilities. Maria Joao Pires says: “It is like a miracle. It’s funny. Many times, on stage, people like myself don’t lose the panic because they don’t accept. And acceptance is a lot about your ego. You want to do well. You don’t want to show yourself as a person that is failing. You don’t like that. It is like losing friends, losing people who are there to listen to you. So, it’s like failing. And if you accept that it is an event and there’s nothing happening if you fail. […] And you know also, the love you can feel for the people, […] it is like a friendship. You love the people at a certain moment, you feel they’re there to listen to music and then we share the music and that helps a lot.”

When we are scared of failing, I think that our natural tendency is to move out of connection and feel all alone. The last thing we do, probably, is connecting with others and share what we have to share: our skill, our wonder and our vulnerability. Miracles happen when we do.

If you want to connect with wonderful people, discuss coaching challenges or learn about our classes, why not join us for one of our free meetups and exchanges?

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