Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New year, new teacher

The other two lesson situations I ended up with this past year were so discouraging that I didn't know if I wanted to venture into another one, but I have gathered myself together and found a new teacher. I am hopeful that this is going to be good; the first few lessons have been extremely promising.

We are working on the exact thing I have been wanting to do, which is how to approach and release the key and how to coordinate all the elements (fingers, wrist, feet [pedaling]). To start, he showed me a few simple finger exercises, which I will try to describe here for the benefit of anyone who may be interested:

First exercise: play a C major scale with one finger (starting with the thumb and working through all fingers, one hand at a time), using the weight of the hand with the wrist as the point of motion. Play each note twice, without lifting the finger, and move to the next note again without lifting the finger. Feel the resistance of the key as it comes up.

Second exercise: play a three-note first inversion chord, starting with C-E-A and going up the scale, again keeping the fingers on the keys and using passive weight as much as possible, as with the first exercise. Do this with each hand separately.

Third exercise: starting on C, with each hand, using 1, 2, and 3, play a pattern of CDE, DEF, etc., to the top of the scale and then back down, as quickly and softly as possible, thinking about getting off of the key for the most clarity. Then play a four-note pattern (CDEF, DEFG, etc.), and then a five-note pattern (CDEFG, DEFGA, etc.).

Then, he asked me to practice the easier Chopin preludes (2, 4, 6, 20), attempting to apply what I'm learning with these exercises.

That's pretty much what we've covered so far, though I am also practicing some other things (Bach WTCII, C major; Chopin Nocture Op. 9 No. 1, etc.). After I've spent a half hour or so on the exercises and the preludes, I can feel a big difference when I play more difficult pieces. Everything feels springier, less tense, and more secure.

So we shall see!

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Something Almost Being Said"

There was a repeat broadcast (originally aired in December 2011) today of "The Diane Rehm Show" on which Diane interviewed Simone Dinnerstein.  Her latest CD is titled "Something Almost Being Said: The Music of Bach and Schubert." There's so much fascinating stuff in the interview that I wanted to share a link here:

Something Almost Being Said - transcript

Audio and other goodies


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This wasn't supposed to be quite this hard

Last August, I decided to learn Debussy's First and Second Arabesques. The First Arabesque is a favorite for the developing student; you can go on YouTube and watch eleventy-million videos by pianists of all ages and stages. The Second Arabesque is less well known and more difficult, though still a foundational sort of piece.

I basically thought, "How hard could this be?"

The answer, as always: "Much harder than you think." Getting every note crystal clear, with the right mood and rhythm and articulation, turned out to be a finicky sort of exercise. It reminded me of my first piano teacher talking about learning "The Little Shepherd" (from Children's Corner) when she was in college: She said it took her two months to play this two-page, slow piece to her teacher's satisfaction. "I could smell those stinkin' sheep" was how she put it.

So I have worked on these pieces steadily for the past four months, and I am still working on them. Barging through them is actually not so difficult, but when I listen to the playbacks of my attempts, if I'm being honest with myself, they leave much to be desired.

I thought, though, that I would post a progress version of the First Arabesque. The Second Arabesque is not even ready for late night, let alone prime time.

First Arabesque, in progress

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chipping away

 Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.


This thought occurred to me last night as I was continuing my struggle with "Pezzo Capriccioso." To the player, the notes on the page are the stone, and the performance is the statue. You learn the notes and try to shape them to express feelings that can't be put into words. Unlike stone, musical performance is fleeting and variable, which is both good and bad. But a satisfying performance does have a solidity of intention and inevitability. I think that's what we all strive to achieve.

Image: Detail of the hand of Michaelangelo's David