Saturday, January 20, 2007

Piano: Finally Making Some Progress

Yesterday was my piano lesson. It was a good lesson. A great lesson. I didn't want it to end.

We started with the usual scales and arpeggios. They're sounding good. Finally, after over a year (or has it been two?) of this contrary-motion work, the scales and arps are starting to feel as natural as parallel-motion scales and arps do. I never, ever dreamed this would happen.

I've been practicing the Bach Prelude (No. 3, C# major, WTC I) in rhythms, working on speed. Finally. I finally have all the notes. I finally have all the articulations and dynamics down. I can finally start thinking about speed. So I played it at piano yesterday, and Deborah noted the big improvement over last week. Yes! Only problem: I'm playing it too ebulliently. She said to think divine joy when I play, and I said, "I am! I'm imaging I'm playing it at the beginning of a church service. I'm imaging a cantata, with all of these people singing joyfully of the risen Christ." Ah. That was the problem. I was thinking cantata when I should be thinking keyboard. In addition, I'm letting my excitement and joy overflow (which is not a bad thing, but not a good thing in a Bach prelude apparently), whereas I need to exercise more emotional control and let the music itself do the emoting. In other words, I think I'm playing it like a Baptist when I should be playing it more like a Lutheran.

So my job is to learn to trust the music. To trust the line of the music. Now that I have the notes and everything else down and I work more toward speed, I need to change some of the ways I envision the music. (Oh, I could say, "But I'm an artist! This is the way I envision it!" And I do say that sometimes. But Deborah knows more about this stuff than I do, and I'm trusting her.)

We didn't work on the fugue. It sounds horrible. I'm getting it, but if you've ever worked on a fugue (or listened to someone practice a fugue), you know that it can sound really horrible. I begged off for this week because I want to work on a few other sections before we go over it again. She said okay.

Then we moved on to Liszt. It sounded muddy, oh so muddy. I have a lazy foot. I'm not quite picking the pedal up all the way, so the breaks between measures and phrases and chord changes aren't clean. I know this is because George's pedal is different from that of Deborah's Steinway Grand. I practice on George, then I have to make adjustments on the Steinway. But that's no excuse.

So it sounded muddy. That was one problem. The other two: My right hand is wallowing, and my left hand is plodding. She said the right-hand problem is a common problem with beautiful romantic music: it's so beautiful that we want to stop and milk every beautiful little passage for all it's got. But that's akin to leading people (listeners) on a hike, then stopping to admire every beautiful flower, every interesting tree trunk, every single fern. It's nice, but your listeners start to get impatient: "Get on with it already!"

So I need to keep the "line" of the music in mind. Keep that melody going. Save the slow-downs for the really big moments so that the really big moments really stand out from the rest.

My left hand is plodding, marching along, oom-pah, oom-pah, oom-pah, as if someone was marking time. Now, within the context of the LINE (the right hand), which is to keep moving along, I need to exercise more freedom in the left hand. Not play the left hand so strictly. But, at the same time, don't let the right hand lose its momentum.

This is a challenge. If you're right handed, have you ever tried to keep time to a song on the radio with your right hand, and tap to the melody in with your left hand? It's kind of like that.

So. Deborah was worried that I'd be discouraged because, even though I have both these pieces down cold as far as the notes are concerned, I still have a ways to go ... and the work I have to do is more brain-work than finger-work.

No, I'm not discouraged. I've been wanting to be at this level for a long time. I'm finally getting there.


Maurizio said...

I've got to do some OpEd on Deborah and JSB, Waterfall. I don't trust nobody on JSB. Not even Rachel. R. had me doing some things which didn't seem to make musical sense to me. So I booked, furiously. Found my ideas were justified. I not only shouted R. down, but converted her on at least one point.
In particular on your issue. There's nothing wrong with thinking Cantata. There's a very close connection between JSB's orchestral music and keyboard music, and JSB himself was greatly influenced by orchestral music. Thinking Cantata is, I think absolutely plausible -- the organ music can't be played w/o doing that. Besides, WTC wasn't written for *performance* but for the individual. Within JSB limits, "anything goes."

oceanskies79 said...

Send you some cheers and encouragements.

Playing music is a joy if all we have in mind is to play music and not to achieve.

linda said...

It sounds like Deborah is a great teacher.

Espresso Machine said...

I know, I know, I've been there!

Just keep plowing through the piano lessons, and you'll be there sooner than you can imagine!