ver·i·si·mil·i·tude [ver-uh-si-mil-i-tood, -tyood]
1. the appearance or semblance of truth; likelihood; probability: The play lacked verisimilitude.
2. something, as an assertion, having merely the appearance of truth.
Origin: 1595–1605; < Latin vērīsimilitūdō, equivalent to vērī (genitive singular of vērum truth) + similitūdō similitude
Last summer on a women’s Wild Nature Retreat that I co-guided, a participant returned from her 48-hour solo fast on the land with the question “what is real?” reverberating in her body and soul.
She questioned civilization, the social masks we wear, the asphalt and air-conditioned cubicles we comfortably live in. Her experience of fasting for two days and nights with only the bare minimum physical comforts, and nothing to DO, allowed her to have a meeting with what is real for her . . . something that could not be put into words, but only felt.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been wrestling with what to do with the gift of my father’s Samick grand piano. I played piano from about three years old until I chose to study graphic design in my sophomore year of college. I grew up playing classical music on a 7-foot Steinway grand piano — the Mercedes of pianos — but didn’t realize my good fortune until I was forced to start shopping around because the grand piano I had been gifted was too large for my home.
I’ve gone to big piano stores and small piano stores, playing and listening to uprights, baby grands and expensive pianos I can’t afford. And every time, I came home feeling depressed — my mind chasing its tail around the fact the nothing sounded as good as a piano that I can’t afford and won’t fit in my living room.
But then an emotionally intelligent salesman — and a professional musician himself — suggested on a whim (on the third time I’d been into the place) that I take a look at the digital pianos: electronic gadgets that emit the recorded sound of a real piano.
I would never have considered this option, except . . . these pianos sample from a $170,000 (yes, that is the correct number of 0’s) 9-foot concert grand piano. The bass and treble sound surprisingly full. There are five different kinds of grand piano sounds you can choose from, with the touch of a button. You can change the tone from bright to muted. You can change the acoustics to mimic the sound of playing in a smaller room or a bigger hall or on a stage. You can plug in your iPad and download a free app that gives you access to a gazillion choices of sheet music in all genres, including the Hannon finger exercises. You can record your piano playing or play other high-quality un-compressed music files through its electronic sound system. It comes in shiny ebony black finish, and it fits into my living room.
THIS is an entirely different reality.
So, is playing a digital piano merely verisimilitude? If the ear is there to hear it, the sound is not the same as real strings being hit by real hammers resonating within real wood.
What is real?
Well, after leaving that piano store for the third time, presented with an entirely new reality, I found myself feeling excited. I felt excited about the possibilities of making music with a new tool, a new kind of instrument. I had been presented with new, uncharted territory that also made me look at my identity as a musician, and the cultural symbols of my upbringing. I could feel the excitement and lightness in my body as I unwound my own expectations and saw things from a new point of view.
I believe I am deeply connected, from age three, to the real sound of a Steinway grand piano, that this 'real' sound is embedded in my bones. So if I’m grounded in this ‘real’ sound, can I now explore music utilizing an electronic approximation of a piano and be OK with it? Or will I still pine for something that's not feasible in my life right now?
Here’s what I've settled on as being real for me:
Life is full of ‘compromises’ that we can make up a million stories about. We make the best choices we can, based on our limitations. Freedom comes from accepting our choices and making the best music we are able to with what we’ve got.