Thursday, September 7, 2006

Blog Sabbatical Over

I say that my blog sabbatical is over, but the truth is, I'm going to be computer-less and piano-less all weekend. I'm posting tonight and I hope to post tomorrow, but I won't be able to practice or post again until Monday. So I'll write a really long post now ... to make up for my dismal lack of posts recently, and to give my huge audience (ha) something to chew on for the next few days. :)

Enough of that. On to the combined lesson/practice report.

My lesson was yesterday. Deborah played me a Ginastera piece she is working on. She's exhilarated at how everything has unfolded regarding her upcoming concert in Asheville. The local NPR station is now sponsoring it as a benefit, and they're going to take care of a lot of the marketing. She's playing an all-Spanish program (composers from the Americas and Spain), with an emphasis on tango. Just a couple of days ago, the Asheville Citizen-Times ran an article on the growing popularity of tango ... so the local NPR station is excited about a tango piano concert/benefit. Anyway, she played a piece she's working on. It really helps me to watch her play every now and then. She's so graceful and relaxed ... a state and style that I would love to obtain and maintain effortlessly.

We had a "practice lesson" since I hadn't practiced in several days. I spent most of it re-familiarizing myself with the Liszt. It wasn't the greatest lesson in the world, but it was good. Why was it good? Because we're going to change directions (slightly) with the Suzuki/basic-skills aspect of my learning.

I told her that I don't have any problem playing by ear, and I get bored with Suzuki because it's basically a learn-by-ear CD. Once I learn it, she'll add articulation notes, and I'll learn to play it the way she says to. Like a third grader. I practice it for maybe ten minutes the day before piano, and play it at my lesson and it sounds fine. Then I go to the next piece. Boring.

My challenge, rather than the by-ear playing, is in playing and interpreting the symbols written on the page. For years I forgot to notice rests. For years my sight-reading was awful because I never learned to read time signatures. For years I learned a piece best when I could find a recording from it and learn from that, using the written music as a sort of supplement.

So we're going to work on improving my reading and interpretation skills. My sight-reading is pretty good, particularly if I'm sight-reading something for church--something that allows me to improvise and skip over the sticky parts. And I can sight-read simple classical pieces. But I don't know a lot about interpreting pieces according to their time period--where you might add a mordent in a Bach piece, or where it's OK to "play" with the tempo in a Mozart. So I'm going to get a facsimile autograph of the Anna Magdalena notebook, study Baroque style (to start with), and increase my knowledge and skills (and confidence) for interpreting music. I think that will be much more helpful to me than the Suzuki.

OK, on to my practice ...

I hadn't practiced for much of the week, thanks to a Labor-Day vacation and a sliced-up right hand (compliments of my cat). I was able to practice tonight, but I had to put a new Band-aid on my pinky halfway through the practice. It probably won't be completely healed until early next week. It's a pretty deep cut, and on the outside of my right pinky, just where it hits the keys.

I spent a total of 120 minutes on the piano tonight. They were some of the most focused 120 minutes I've ever spent at the piano, though a lot of it was "quiet time." I'm reading Passionate Practice by Margret Elson and am really focusing on getting into an "A/R" (alert/relaxed) state before I play, and maintaining it while I'm playing. Easier said than done. I worked on a simple Bach minuet, as directed in Passionate Practice. It amazes me how tense I get when my fingers come into contact with the keys. Almost like a sudden electric current buzzes through me. I used to think this was a positive thing--intensity!!--but now I'm seeing that, while anticipation and passion are important, the "tension of intensity" is not what I want to strive for.

I was more relaxed tonight when I played the Bach minuet. (I started working on it and A/R state several days ago). I managed to play it through without generating a billion butterflies in my stomach, and without tensing up my shoulders. I'm still not "there," but I'm getting closer. Next I followed Robert's suggestion and tried playing measures of a very familiar piece--the Bach sinfonia in g-minor--while maintaining an A/R state. I went one measure at a time, then two measures at a time ... again, I'm not "there" yet, but I can tell that my body is learning to relax while playing.

One observation: when I play using the music, my eyes get really dry and my contacts get scratchy. Very annoying and distracting when one is trying to play Bach. I end up rolling my eyes, grimacing, and periodically squint-blinking. A lovely image, I'm sure. But the reason my eyes get dry is because I don't blink. Or I forget to. The other night, I also noticed that I'm not breathing regularly when I play. Sometimes I quit breathing altogether.

Not blinking + not breathing does not equal an ideal physical state for playing piano. So I really focused on breathing, being relaxed, and blinking while playing tonight. Hard to do. Kind of like rubbing your belly, patting your head, and humming Stravinsky at the same time.

Anyway, I went through my scales and arps and they sounded fine. Skipped over Suzuki (yawn) and went straight to the Bach prelude. Focused very intently on staying in A/R while practicing. I just worked on the first 15 measures or so, but I drilled the heck out of them, particularly the transitions between RH and LH. This piece definitely seems easier than it really is. But after my monster drill session, I had the measures sounding clean ... and I was staying (mostly) relaxed. I kept having to stop whenever I felt my body tense up, then take a minute or two to settle myself back into A/R.

By the time I finished working on the prelude, it was after 10:00. I'm tired. Tomorrow, I'll focus on the fugue and Liszt. I really wish I had three or four hours a day for practicing!

4 comments:

  1. Ack! Forgot to close my link! Sorry!

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  2. OH...that's very strange - it didn't even include the thing I was linking to...
    the Alexander technique.

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  3. Actually, the link works. It just looks weird. :)

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  4. Aha, Waterfall -- breathing! That's exactly what PPractice helped me solve. Rachel had observed it previously, but it's just impossible while playing to tell yourself "breathe". But after the PPractice exercises, I found I was doing it automatically -- aware, but not thinking about it. More in email.

    Btw, I'm not replying under my usual name. Since I'm on Beta Blogger now, the Gods won't let me post using that identity. And the swallowed my previous response before telling me that.

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