Superhuman Strength

“Two mothers have been dubbed ‘Superwomen’ after saving a schoolboy’s life by lifting a 1.1 ton car off his body.”

We’ve all read about miracles like these. A similar Superhuman Strength can happen when a student’s desire to learn a particular piece outweighs their own abilities to do so. I’m not talking about a beginner learning to play a Rachmaninoff Concerto. I’m talking about a struggling intermediate-level adult who always wanted to play the D flat Chopin Nocturne and suddenly can. A 7-year-old who’s been struggling to play 5-finger pieces and miraculously learns the “A” section of Für Elise. An 82-year-old teaches himself the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. These things are examples happening in my studio right now.

Superhuman Strength is sometimes defined as the ability for a character to be stronger, tougher more durable and more physically powerful than humanly possible.

The right piece at just the right time can challenge a student’s notion of what is humanly possible for them. “Too hard” can become meaningless.  They can teach themselves to play lightning-quick scales in octaves, to read in C sharp minor, to lift a car. 

The most compelling motivation comes from hearing another student perform a piece, especially if it sounds too hard for the student to even imagine playing it themselves. The right combination of inspiration, competition and sheer love for a specific piece can be magical.

I still remember my car-lifting pieces. When I was eleven years old, at a Saturday afternoon master class at my teacher’s house, Noriko Nishiwaki played the Prelude to the Bach English Suite in A minor. The same day, Jennifer Brown played the Tcherepnin Bagatelle Opus 5 # 10. I still remember those performances and I still play those pieces and remember the enthusiasm those first performances inspired in me. Years later in John Perry’s studio, Sandra Shapiro played the Brahms D Minor Concerto. Each of those performances inspired me and motivated me to work on things that stretched my abilities. 

Psychology Today says,

How does the body unleash these reserves? The answer might lie in another, related aspect of the fear response: it deadens pain. Among the chemicals that the releases when under acute stress are two kinds, endocannabinoids and opiods, that are powerful analgesics. Their painkilling effects override the aching feeling we normally get when we try to lift heavy weights.

In music it’s a little different. In music, the act of bringing forth sounds that you already love brings out a focus, determination and stamina that another piece just won’t.

Remember this the next time you organize a trip to a fabulous concert, or make time for or an afternoon of music in your studio. Pat yourself on the back when you say “Yes,” to you student’s request to play a piece you wouldn’t have chosen for them.

After all, I bet you can still remember your own car-lifting pieces. What were they?