Going Amateur: a pianist chooses retirement

I’m 53 years old and for the first time in my life I’m practicing without a performance goal.  No upcoming concerts.  No recordings. I'm retiring as a pianist to further embrace my writing career where, on No Dead Guys and other sites, I can continue to champion composers and their music. Leaving performing is just the final step on a six-year departure from a lifelong music career, a journey I first wrote about in Pianists and the Art of the Graceful Exit.  

The process of choosing to retire has been a deeply introspective one. Like most musicians, my relationship with the piano goes much deeper than a job description and has been embedded in my identity since I was a child. One of the phases I had to pass through as I started my LONG retirement process was letting go of youthful dreams. Part of me felt I never did enough. Looking back (of course) I can see that I did quite a lot with my level of skill and training and the opportunities I was given. I also answered the most important internal question--I took my piano technique and abilities to my personal limit. I know that I've gone as far as I can (technically and perhaps musically) and that this plateau will eventually give way to decline. I don't want to do what I've seen others do--go through that decline in front of an audience. The other hurdle to embracing retirement?  Accepting invisibility and irrelevance.  As women we "disappear" enough in this culture as we age; leaving the workforce only makes that worse. But the freedom is worth the loss of perceived importance. 

And yet, I’m still a pianist. Leaving the job doesn’t mean leaving the joy of playing the piano.  But leaving the job is forcing me to learn how to practice all over again. Performing and recording gave me a “goal line." Without that, how do I structure my practice time? How do I assess progress? And, underneath it all, how do I learn what passionate amateurs know so well—how to stop setting goals and obsessing over progress and play for the sake of playing?  

I’m letting intuition guide me. I’ve created a set list of pieces I know I want to have in my permanent repertoire and I’m working on the ones that I’ve not played recently. The first few weeks felt disorienting. I knew I wanted to be at the piano every day, but I lacked direction. I played one thing, dabbled with another, and then fell into my current routine: working on a my “forever” pieces and learning pieces I’ve always wanted to play. Yesterday, while doing my home yoga practice, my new relationship with the piano became clear to me: with the removal of the professional title, piano joins yoga and cooking as something I’m deeply passionate about and do every day. In all three pursuits I am free to choose precision and accomplishment without the pressure of needing to meet anyone else’s standards. After 31 years of knowing that I’m only as good as my last concert/recording/etc. this freedom is intoxicating.  

I’m just at the start of a remarkable journey of learning to be an amateur and I know there are many more revelations to come.  But today, I know this: it’s not a hardship to leave the old vehicles behind—the old goals, the old jobs, and the old notes. The time is right, and because of that I can let them go, be grateful for the memories, and step into the future without the weight of the past.  


Congratulations, Rhonda! I applaud your thoughtful journey to this place. Only sorry we're so far apart geographically. Would love to be able to sit down for a long natter about this and other life conundrums! Blessings.
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Thank you Chrisse. And yes, it would be great to chat about all of this. I think this pandemic (and the subsequent loss of opportunities in the entertainment industry) is causing many performing artists to reconsider career paths. The realization that I didn't want to reinvent myself for the post-pandemic world was the final deciding point in my choice to retire.
Zackdaddy said…
Rhonda, I don't necessarily see your "retiring" as an abrogation of any kind. You are merely going from one 'room' into another in the high-rise of life. These rooms have distinct 'characters', another one of which you are now adopting. If we are fortunate enough to have a relatively long life, then it is perfectly logical to close the door to one room, only to open the door into another. For you, your passion and poetry are simply finding an alternate way to express themselves. Life is really just a kind of kaleidoscope, which can give apparently differing perspectives all stemming from the same source - yourself. Too often, our cookie-cutter society regards retirement as the last hurrah before dying, with a short hiatus of gardening or (ugh) golf! You owe us as well as yourself to share the range of your talent from as many artistic viewpoints as your fans are lucky enough to witness and behold. Now go to work on your next novel!
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Thank you for such a supportive and eloquent comment. Playing your music has been one of the highlights of my career.
I am so glad that you are able to chart and navigate a path that stokes your passions and brings you happiness. I wish you and John all the very best in your active “retirement”. Selfishly, I wouldn’t be the least bit disappointed if you came back west for a Cher-style Farewell Tour!
Rhonda Rizzo said…
Thank you, Dave. I'd be enticed into a "Cher-style Farewell Tour" just for the costumes.