Fitting, don't you think, that I write my first Thuddy Thursday on Mozart's birthday? I think so, too!
Where to begin?
Where do you begin when you feel like you’re diving right back into the middle?
I worked very hard at piano from 2003 to 2008 or so and even had realistic dreams of auditioning for several amateur piano competitions. But then ...
I’ll be honest. My job, which I started in 2007, pretty much swallowed up my life. I’m not saying that as a complaint; I’m just stating a fact. But once I started working this job, piano was moved to the back burner of my priorities.
When I moved, a year later (2008), to the same town where I work, my devotion to piano got knocked off that stovetop and onto the dirty kitchen floor, where it was kicked unceremoniously under the fridge and has stayed ever since.
It’s been almost three years. Part of me feels like a complete loser—all that work, those five years, for what? So I could stop playing for three years, forget how to play all the pieces I worked so hard to learn, and let my technique go down the drain? Who does that?
But another part of me is glad to be back. Part of me is thankful that I haven’t completely lost my technique, or even my pieces.
So, rather than waste my time obsessing over how bad I am compared to three years ago, I’m going to enjoy practicing whatever I decide to practice, and be thankful that I’m becoming reacquainted with something I love.
So, without further ado, here’s my Thuddy report for the week:
Scales, inversions, and arps: With scales and arpeggios, I typically play one octave of parallel motion (whole notes), two of contrary (half notes), three of parallel (triplets), and four of contrary (quarter notes). For scales, arpeggios, and chord inversions, I’ll also play a major key and the relative minor.
My scales, arps, and inversions sound surprisingly good. My fingers tire more easily than three years ago (of course), but I’m happy the feel the notes falling naturally under my fingers, particularly with the hard-earned contrary motion scales.
Bach: I’ve decided to re-learn the Bach Sinfonia (three-part invention) No. 11 in G minor. This is one I learned several years ago, and one of the few pieces I “kept up” after learning it, mainly because I love it so much. After three years of not playing, though, I’m having to clear the undergrowth of lazy technique and forgotten notes and fingering. This week, I’ve spent a total of about 35 minutes working on the first 48 measures of the piece, focusing mostly on measures 17 through 48.
Shostakovich: For my other piece, I’m working on “Waltz - Scherzo,” the fifth little piece of Shostakovich’s “Seven Dolls’ Dances.” It’s a very sweet, early intermediate/late beginner piece. It’s almost too easy, but I’m working on playing it perfectly. With technically simply pieces, it’s too tempting to get lazy and just play it without worrying about playing it well, the way an established concert pianist might play it.
But I want to play to the highest standard I can. And that’s much more feasible with a piece that’s easy on the fingers. Hence my working on this piece.
I also need a few “easy victories” at this stage in my piano life.
Want to know the biggest reason I’m learning this piece? It’s this: I really love the whole suite of pieces and would like to learn all of them. That’s my plan, actually—and this one’s the second one I’m learning.
This week, I put in about 55 minutes of work on the first and middle sections of the Shostakovich. Next week, I hope to focus on it a little less, and on the Bach a little more.
My biggest challenges so far:
Sloppiness and Laziness: Particularly with the Bach, I tend to want to be lazy. This is partly because I’m tired, and partly because I’ve learned the piece before and want to rely on hand-memory, rather than focus on the notes themselves, and how they interact with the other notes. But I know, if I can discipline myself to take the harder route, my understanding of the piece, and my playing of it, will end up being superior to what it was before.
Fingering: This might be a sloppiness/laziness problem as well. I have all the fingering written in for both pieces (from years ago), but I’m not following what I’ve written. So I’ll change it and practice with it the new way a few times ... and realize the previous fingering was better. I need to decide what fingering I want to use and stick with it; otherwise, I’ll have weak links in my playing. And weak links are bad!
I’m really happy to be playing again. Both pieces are actually coming along quite well, and I think the sloppiness/laziness issues will abate as I get back into the habit of disciplined practicing.
And now, in case you’d like to experience for yourself the beauty of the Bach sinfonia I’m learning, here’s an early recording of Glenn Gould playing (and intermittently humming to) it. I love this tempo, which is a bit slower than the tempo of his later recording. At about 45 seconds in is measure 17 ... the unspeakable beauty of that high “B” at the start of the measure gets me every time. It is sheer joy to play it well.