Sunday, May 29, 2011

What next?

My semester of piano lessons is almost at an end. What do I do now? Sort of thinking in pixels, here . . .

I know I'm going to keep practicing whether I continue to take lessons or not. What I'm not sure about is whether the lessons are worthwhile enough with this teacher, or even with any teacher. I'd say 90% of what we have worked on has been tone production and voicing, and the other 10% phrasing. This is fine as far as it goes, but I believe there's more to playing the piano than these things. Also, there's been little advice on how to practice beyond, "Just play around with this!"

This teacher has said from time to time, "You have an amazing memory!" Um, I don't think so! I've developed a basic ability to memorize and work something up to an approximate performing level, but mostly I feel like I'm muddling my way through, and it would be nice to get some actual instruction on this stuff.

The other issue is that I'm serious about learning the entire Well-Tempered Clavier. It's my main piano love. But this teacher seems to have no interest in this. I suspect she thinks it's one of those crazy "adult student" ideas that is completely unachievable. And okay, I am never going to be able to play the entire two volumes in one concert from memory, like Angela Hewitt, but I can at least continue to learn them one at a time. I brought in WTC II/15 back when I started working on it in February and we worked on it for a few minutes, and I mentioned it from time to time as the months went on, but she never asked me to play it for her again. Everything we have worked on has been music that she has chosen, and that's fine -- I have learned a great deal from working on it -- but OTOH, none of it has deeply spoken to me in the sense that I felt impelled to learn it.

I like the fact that she brings up things I wouldn't have thought about. I mean, anyone can tell you to play the right notes. You don't even need a teacher for that (after all, the notes are right there on the page). Once you're beyond the basics, a teacher is helpful for things that are not so obvious, or perhaps for things that are obvious to an experienced listener but not to you.

This has certainly been better than having the kind of teacher who churns you through a vast number of etudes and pieces but doesn't actually teach you how to play them. When I was in graduate school, there was another cello student who had a teacher like this; she finally switched teachers after much travail and insistence with the administration of the school (which is another story in itself). She would work on a pile of things for a week or so, and then the teacher would give her new ones, even though she couldn't really play the first pile. It was a total waste of time, not to mention money (seeing as the school was not cheap). If I had to choose between a teacher like my current one and a teacher like that, obviously I would choose the former.

So I suppose the question is whether I could do better. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

In the interests of science

I finally listened to the recording from Sunday, and whoo boy -- why did I rush so much? Adrenaline, can't live with it, can't live without it. I guess I'm not ready for Carnegie Hall yet.

But there are a few nice moments here and there, and at least I kept going when stuff happened.

Beethoven, Sonata Op. 31 No. 2, first movement, rushin' version

Monday, May 23, 2011

Recital accomplished

This afternoon, I played on the adult student recital at the music school where I'm taking lessons. This was my second shot at the first movement of Beethoven's Op. 31 No. 2 (okay, "The Tempest," to make it easier for everyone).

I felt very well prepared, but even so, sitting down at that big piano in front of an audience without any music in front of me was like standing on the high dive over the deep end. I really had to assert mind control to shut up that voice in my head telling me I couldn't possibly do this.

I was scheduled first (again) -- this time because I had told my teacher I had to leave after the first half hour of the recital because I had an orchestra rehearsal -- so I didn't have much time to get nervous. But I was still nervous. So the exposition the first time through was rushed, and I missed a couple of things. In general, though, I had it under control, and starting with the repeat things felt better.

I got a good response from the audience, my teacher was happy, and the director of the school complimented me as I trundled out the door with my cello. My husband recorded it for me, but I haven't gotten the nerve up to listen to it yet. Maybe tomorrow. For now, I just want to bask in the fact that I actually played the piano in public and that it wasn't a total disaster.

Thought for the day: As we were eating lunch at home before heading out for this thing, I said to my husband, "What's the point of doing this, really?" And he said, "It's important. It's art, and culture, and music, the things that are part of civilization and make life worth living."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Bach

After dithering over how much of a perfectionist I wanted to be, I decided this version is not bad. This was recorded all in one take, with no editing other than removing some silence at the beginning and end and normalizing the audio.

This Prelude and Fugue set is one of the easier ones, though as usual I found it challenging enough! It's taken me about 4 months to get to this point with it. There is a version of the fugue in this set that Bach called a "fughetta" that is even easier than the one here.

When I first looked at this music a few years ago, I thought it was a bit boring, but as usual with Bach, it has grown on me, and I like it very much now.

Angela Hewitt, in her liner notes for this piece, says that it "has lots of gaiety and charm," and that "not for the first time, Bach has a twinkle in his eye at the close."*

*From Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Angela Hewitt, piano, Hyperion Records.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

This made me feel a little silly, but . . .

I am scheduled to play my Beethoven movement on a student recital at the music school in a couple of weeks. At my lesson last night, my teacher had me practice walking to the piano and bowing, and then sitting down on the bench, waiting an appropriate amount of time, and raising my hands into position. Then I practiced standing up after playing and bowing again and walking away. She critiqued each of these actions and had me repeat them several times.

Now, as I told her, I've been performing for about 40 years, and I've done a lot of walking on and off stages in lots of places and bowing for lots of audiences. OTOH, I haven't done much of this as a pianist. I can't remember getting much instruction on stage deportment with any instrument, though I suppose I learned something by watching other people. In any case, at age 53 I have now had a lesson on it.

Even though I went home and described this to my husband, and he said, "Are you s****ing me?" and we laughed about it, it actually is useful to do something like this. In this case, because my lessons are in the same space where the recital will take place, it served as a mini dress rehearsal. Aside from understanding what you need to do (which, actually, I DO know after all these years), it gives your nerves a chance to experience by anticipation what they will be subjected to at the performance.

I do draw the line at wearing patent-leather mary janes and tying my hair back with a ribbon, however.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Shame, or why I seem to have so little of it

There was a lively discussion on Piano World recently about a poster's participation in an amateur competition. The competition people sent him recordings of all his performances, and so he posted them. He was unhappy with some things, particularly a slightly insecure Appassionata performance, but IMO, they were great! Very impressive in many ways. Most reactions were positive, though there was some criticism (and one person even said the second movement of the Beethoven was "pretty bad"; the original poster luckily seems to have a thick skin).

Sometimes when I think about what I have posted here (and who knows who is listening), I feel pretty embarrassed, but I do it anyway. I know that my posted recordings are lacking in many (possibly most) respects. But I post them because I think they may be of interest to other amateur musicians who are struggling with the same issues. If I have no other goals available, I know I can always use this forum to give myself one.

So thanks for listening!

And speaking of listening, I am almost ready to record my current Bach WTC attempt. Coming soon . . .