Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An eerie calm ...

Image from http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/storms/calm-before-storm.htm *

I'm performing the Schumann cello concerto in three weeks, and I'm not in a panic, which somewhat worries me. But maybe this means I have progressed in some way and have more self-confidence. The first rehearsal with the orchestra is this coming weekend.

I had something of a break this past week from the deep practicing I have been doing because I had a big editing job that was due yesterday. The freelance projects I've taken since I stopped working full time help me keep my hand in the editing biz, which I somewhat enjoy for its own sake, plus its being a source of income. I took this project because I thought it would be a good distraction from obsessing about the Schumann, and it did help with that, but it took quite a few hours; I feel much freer now.

My task for today is to record the concerto for the conductor so he can listen to what I'm doing. I suggested this because he doesn't have time to meet in person before we start rehearsing, but thanks to the Internet, we don't need to!

I've been doing some reading and thinking about practicing. I finally read The Talent Code after my piano teacher mentioned it every week for about a month. Interesting stuff, though I have to say poorly written in the sense that it's dumbed down to the extreme. I found this review by a random blogger that I think is spot on.

There's a section in the book describing the author's visits to Meadowmount, the famous summer music camp started by Galamian in 1944, and I found the "gee whiz!" POV kind of silly, as if the kind of work promoted there was unusual. The reader would have been better served if the author had mentioned (if he even knew this) that this is a pretty standard conservatory-level approach. Also, that Meadowmount is extremely selective both in terms of faculty (who all have to be famous musicians) and students, so by the time they get there, both are already on a high level.

But I have to say, this book put a spotlight on why all the bad teachers I've had were so bad. (Not to be too negative or anything.) And, for that matter, why the bad therapists I've had were bad, too. I've always felt that the best way to teach is to get right down to exactly what the student can do to improve, in microscopic detail, rather than using shaming, personal attacks, or vague niceness. The idea that deep, behavior-changing learning takes place in a focused, practical, problem-solving way rings true to my experience, but most of the teachers I've had did NOT teach that way, or did not go far enough in one direction or another.

I also purchased an e-book about how to practice by an accomplished pianist and teacher, and fellow blogger (Graham Fitch, of Practising the Piano, which you can find on my blog list). I'm finding all of his little practice tips interesting and helpful, to the extent that I will read a section and then rush to the cello to try it out on the Schumann. I spent a session doing what he calls "little bits fast": taking small sections of a measure or two and cycling them up to tempo and then joining them together. This almost miraculously helped smooth out a number of problems, especially in the opening of the last movement, which is annoyingly both simple and devilishly difficult.

I've also been practicing the piano a bit. I started working on a Beethoven sonata, Op. 90 in E minor. My lack of time for this right now is leading me to try to understand more efficient practicing. It bugs me that it always takes me so long to learn something -- like, months and months of flailing around ineffectively -- and I'm sure I can improve on this. If I don't, my repertoire will continue to be severely limited. When I mentioned my poor practice methods, my teacher agreed that is probably the case. But I've clung to them for so long because they do seem to work up to a point.

We were talking about this at my last lesson, and one thing he said about focused, bit-by-bit practicing, was, "You have to have faith that it's going to work." I'm trying to apply this approach to learning the Beethoven, which is a completely new piece for me -- I've never even heard it, let alone played it. So we'll see. In any case, this gives me something to look forward to musically after the Schumann performance.

*Believe it or not, the caption under the source for this image reads: "Does an eerie calm precede a storm or is that just an old wives tale?"

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