Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I'm playing this week

This is probably getting a bit boring to read. It's a bit boring to write, too. Practicing just isn't all that exciting on a day-to-day basis. Sort of like watching paint dry.


Dvorak, in the final week before the first orchestra rehearsal. I probably mainly need to repeat, repeat, repeat. Not sure if I'll play it from memory. I'll have to see how I feel.

Orchestra parts (Brahms second symphony, etc.).

Etudes and Bach for general physical fitness.


Bach Prelude and Fugue, WTCII. I attempted to play the prelude at the in-laws on Christmas (brother-in-law has a nice Yamaha upright that has just been tuned and voiced, and he wanted me to try it) and it fell apart. Possibly because of the three glasses of wine I had with dinner.

Gershwin preludes.

Brahms Op. 118. Playing these slowly with the metronome is helping tremendously. I have a fond memory about No. 3: During my first year as an undergrad music major, I usually sat on the steps in front of the music building waiting for the orchestra rehearsal, and almost every time, someone would be playing Op. 118 No. 3 in the classroom on the second floor just above the building entrance.  Years later, I figured out what the piece was and kept thinking that surely I could learn to play it, but it has evaded me -- until now (I hope).

Chopin: still picking away at Prelude No. 8 and the Nocturne Op. 62 No. 2, but thinking of trying to record a couple of pieces for the ABF's e-citals this spring in honor of Chopin's 200th birthday in March. I couldn't seem to think that far ahead when they were planning this last summer, so most of the pieces were chosen before I even considered doing this.

The issue of deciding what to play, though it seems simple, is fraught with meaning. The vast library of music for the piano is overwhelming. It's like facing a buffet loaded with all your favorite dishes and knowing that you can't come to this party again. Unlike a buffet, though, you can't eat just one bite -- you have to have a full serving, so you have to choose.

There are so many elements to balance, like level of difficulty, musical worth, and how one piece complements other pieces learned or in progress. If you have only limited time, is it better to stick with the basics or learn something new or unusual? Should you learn several short pieces or one longer piece? Once you've learned something, when should you move on to something else? Is it worthwhile to return to a piece already learned or to keep learning new pieces?

When I was beginning my return to the piano five years or so ago, I was stymied by these questions, but I finally decided to just choose something, anything, to get myself started. I've had to invoke that a few times since.

A teacher theoretically should help with all this, but I've seen and experienced the fact that it does not. The teacher can only guess what is going to both appeal to you and help develop your playing, and some are not very good at guessing.

Having a sense of which material is best suited to one's self-expression develops over time, through experience and education, but it is also based on instinct and personal taste. Choosing what to play may seem mundane, but even the greatest players must be selective. They make their choices seem natural, universal, inevitable. This is part of their art.

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