Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Real live practicing!

Well, actually, if you didn't catch it before midnight on July 4, you missed it.

Valentina Lisitsa is a wonderful pianist with a secure and relaxed technique. She concentrates on the solid, muscular romantics -- Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Schumann. I had a chance to hear her live and attend a master class with other amateur pianists* a few years ago, and it was fascinating to watch and listen to her demonstrate and explain how to achieve something technically, from a legato line to double trills -- and in a completely matter-of-fact way, without pretensions.

Last week, she set up a webcam and did a live stream of her practicing for a week. I'll give you the link here, though there's not much to see at this point:

She described it this way:

Hi everyone :-)
I thought it kinda cute to let those of you who are curious - (or upsed at me not responding to messages on Youtube , Facebook etc LOL ) inside my practice studio.I am going to run live webcam for next 7 days-'till July 4th midnight to be exact.
I will be working on my recital and cocnerto programs that I will have to perform next month. I have 55 pieces to work on!!!!!!
Seriously. Some of them I have to revive ( like Chopin Etudes or Brahms #2)more than half is absolutely brand new . I am going to practice as usual -@ 13-14 hours a day., from around 9-10AM EST to midnight. Nothing exciting otherwise:-)
I was only able to see a little of this, though over the weekend I left it on for hours and listened to it in the background while I was doing other things. It was extremely interesting to hear how she went about drilling these pieces for many hours. She played small sections -- maybe eight to twelve measures at a time -- and cycled through them over and over with just a brief pause between reps. If something wasn't completely clear, she would do the section slowly once or twice and then back at tempo again. She always had the score up on the piano, and occasionally she stopped and wrote a fingering or note in the music. No metronome. No sitting and meditating.

Among other things, I thought about the intense boredom of this kind of practicing for the musician -- balanced, of course, by the knowledge that if she doesn't do it, the performance won't be secure and she won't be able to express what she wants to express, and won't be fulfilling her professional duties, either. As my first piano teacher always said (and wrote in my lesson notebook, in big letters), "In repetition there is security!!!"

Amateurs and nonplayers are dumbfounded by the "13 to 14 hours a day," but divide that among 55 pieces, each at least five minutes long, most more, and you end up with, what, about 15 minutes per day for each piece -- not much time at all. Perhaps enough time to make sure everything's in place in a piece already learned.

*I played in this class, an embarrassingly mediocre rendition of a Chopin Mazurka (Op. 6 No. 1). Pictorial evidence:

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