Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Fugin' is Fun (and I am a Big Ball of Mush)

I am such a ball of mush. This post is from my piano-practice blog, but I know a lot of y'all don't read it, and I wanted to share it with the world.

I practiced for about 60 minutes tonight. I'd had a glass of wine with my husband at dinner to celebrate the bonu$ he got today, so I was feeling a little woozy when I sat down tonight to practice. I didn't expect a very good practice because I wasn't feeling quite alert enough for a good practice.

Went through scales, arps, and inversions with my eyes closed. Literally. Just resting my eyes, I was. And the inversions sounded a lot better than usual. Usually, I'm scurrying to get the four fingers in the right place each inversion, and tonight I just played through them with a Zen-like calm. Weird. Wonderful, but weird.

I played through Suzuki a couple of times, then moved on to the fugue.

What a great practice. It started off rather slow, but it ended up ... transforming.

My goal for the night was the tail end of measure 24. This is shortly after the bass voice has rejoined the soprano and alto. It's tricky, with the bass holding a note while the alto plays, and then the alto immediately holding a note while the bass plays. Meanwhile the soprano plays a steady Bach-style legato. For the last two notes, the alto rests, and it's harder than you would think, to remember to pick up that alto finger and let the bass and soprano play the last two notes alone.

I had to play through that single beat about twenty times before the passage, with all its holding and resting, started to feel natural.

Of course, I had to rewrite the fingering in several places ... but I realized something important: the fingering-changes are an adjustment I've made for my hand size. Rather than struggle through an awkward fingering, somehow thinking I'm doing something "advanced" because it "feels difficult," I'm coming up with "easier" fingerings that work best for me. The challenge, then, isn't to hold my hand in weird positions and look strained; it's to hold or rest a note, to play it staccato or legato, using the fingering that feels most natural to my hand.

Duh. Why did it take me so long to figure that one out? No clue.

After playing the final beat of measure 24 twenty or so times, I played the entire measure twenty times. Then I played measures 23 and 24 together twenty times. Then the "section," starting with the second beat of measure 19--you guessed it, twenty times. Then I played through measures 17 through 24 a few times (not twenty--I was starting to get tired!). As with the Liszt, I finally feel like I'm starting to make music with this piece--even though I still have a long way to go.

Something else wonderful happened tonight, though.

OK. I know this piece very well. I can probably hum the soprano, alto, and bass voices each for you (but please, don't ask me to do that!). I have analyzed it, listened to it, played it on my iPod as I've fallen asleep at night. I've learned it voices separately and hands separately, and now I'm learning it hands together. This piece has become a part of me.

So it was strange and refreshing when I played the first beat of measure 23 tonight and was suddenly struck by the most profound-feeling sense of longing. The pathos of those few notes took me by surprise, and I can't begin to explain the yearning that welled up in me. Yearning for what, I don't know. But whenever I played those four notes, I felt ... homesick? nostalgic? sad? romantic? All of those things.

But I wasn't tempted to play it "romantically," with pedal or rubato or anything like that. It's perfect without all of that added stuff. But the longing ... it was something greater than the longing that Romantic pieces sometimes pull up.

Then, while I was playing mm 17-24, I got to the last beat of measure 17, and again ... the yearning. It was so ... delicious, yet so ... piercing. I played it again.

I know. It sounds like I could be writing about sex. Maybe it's akin to sex. Whatever it was, it was powerful. And I don't think it was the wine, because the slight buzz of that wore off pretty quickly.

What was it about these combinations of notes that stirred up such emotions in me? When I first learned these sections, I thought things like, "Oh, that's pretty," or "Hm, that's clever." But now they seemed ... miraculous. And I was struck by the most profound sense of honor, of privilege for having the opportunity, the skill, and the tenacity to be able to participate in the miraculous. To be a part of something that the genius Bach started over 300 years ago.

I know. I'm getting wordy and purple-prosey. I don't care. I'm not above being moved emotionally by music (if I were, I doubt that I'd have much use for music at all!), but I have been approaching the fugue as a series of tasks and challenges. If I could just be driven and dedicated enough, I would get it. I wasn't thinking about emotional impact ... if it came, it would certainly come later, after I had learned the entire piece as an organic whole.

Tonight, all of that work paid off, even if in just a small way, in just two short sections. For a couple of moments, the fugue ceased to be a series of mini-projects and became something transcendent. And I got to be a part of it. Me and George.

It was a good practice.

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