Monthly Archives: February 2012

the year of playing the piano – getting a grip

What is it about toast and honey that’s so delicious? Sometimes nothing else will do. It’s no good for writers, since if the toast is properly warm, the honey melts. You’re certainly glued to your keyboard, but not in a useful way. See how good at procrastination I am. I didn’t procrastinate at the piano today. I sat on the stool and, as advised by the Phantom, thought instead of played – or mostly. A piano text is an interesting beast. You spend much time staring at it, but how much really looking? I’ve been studying Variation 2 (Murrah Perahia playing), separating out the lines, really following. Then I followed without anybody playing. It’s painstaking work. Sometimes you want to throw the script in the air. Sometimes you want to tap dance on it (The Artist still echoing). I confined myself to more honey. Now I have a stickytext urtext. Tomorrow I’ll do jam.

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the year of playing the piano – the next challenge

Much wisdom from the Phantom today. Bach must be learned inside out, not outside in. Reminded me of a rhyme my grandmother used to recite:
Two little dogs went out for a walk, and it was windy weather.
To stop themselves from blowing about, they tied themselves together.
They tied themselves with a yard of twine, the wine it blew and blew
It blew as keen as a carving knife, and cut that twine in two.
Up and away like kites in the sky those two little dogs blew about
Till one little dog blew inside in and the other dog inside out.

Just been to see The Artist. After the Goldberg, tapdancing. Makes perfect sense to me.

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the year of playing the piano – better than a wet fish?

Back to square one. Slow practice. Endless repetition. Nothing working well. Plod on, plod on. Somebody asked me why I do it. I do it because I can’t. This may not make sense to you. It makes perfect sense to me.
I’m going to have anchovies for dinner. Oily fish is supposed to work miracles. Ok, anchovies, over to you.

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the year of playing the piano – plain unvarnished

The plain unvarnished truth is that sometimes I feel all this practice is useless and I should give up. Yesterday, having had a reasonable practice (after which I blogged) I went back to the piano in the evening, to enjoy myself, or so I thought. Trouble was, I had watched Angela Hewitt’s DVD on how to play Bach. I should have known better, then, to play any Bach at all. But I thought I’d be fine with a much practised two part invention. Not a bit of it. Couldn’t play it at all. Couldn’t even remember it. Fingers clumsy and unresponsive. Fourth and fifth fingers weakly anarchic. Brain sluggish. A nasty sound. Everything had gone to pot. Today, I kept the silencer firmly on. I struggled. If I manage Twinkle Twinkle Little Star without sounding like a blind carthorse it will be a miracle.

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the year of playing the piano – the great fear

At last, muscle memory is beginning to kick in with my Goldberg. A few automatic fingerings. About time. I am millimetering along (inching would be a gross exaggeration). But now I have a fear. I can’t play everything every day, and my memory is awful, so how am I to move on without forgetting everything I’ve already learned? Play something mastered (well, up to a point), then something new, every day? Run through everything? Obviously not this last. You can’t run through Bach. Perhaps my practice will just have to get longer and longer and my nights shorter and shorter. Since I don’t sleep much, this shouldn’t be a problem. I must say, though, whoever decided on the 24 hour day must have had very little to do.

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the year of playing the piano – I’ve been Phantomed

Today I spent time with the Phantom. Not physically, of course. Non-Lloyd Weber phantoms are hardly physical beings. I spent time with the Phantom’s work. No respectable household should be without his Pianist’s Guide to the Goldberg. Which makes ours the only respectable household since so far as I know, I am in possession of the only copy. The respectable result is that Bach would like me today not because I played well, but because I did what all amateur pianists should do: I followed advice. The Phantom is not lofty. He understands the difficulties of the struggling pianist. He also understands Bach. I’m off to a concert now, filled with wisdom, compassion and humanity. Crikey! I’ll be smiling on the subway next – not a wise thing to do in Glasgow.

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the year of playing the piano – taking a plunge

Today I bought some premium bonds. Then I played Variations 1 and 2 sans silencer. That is, this house heard not Angela, Glenn, Andras or Murray’s lovely Goldbergs, but K. M. Grant’s. The piano was embarrassed; the house unimpressed. Afterwards, I went out, head down, to avoid the neighbours. But like a visit to the dentist, it had to be done. The silencer is a marvel, but it disguises things. It’s also no practice at all for the nerves. If I’m ever to have another lesson – which I badly need – it’s not much good if the teacher can’t hear anything except a whole load of clacking. I also listened to some Well-Tempered Clavier. When I was small, I thought Bach so nice to tell us his clavier had a sweet nature. I imagined – and still do – the clavier smiling away. My piano is still recovering from this morning, so is not smiling. I’m not smiling either, but if those premium bonds come up trumps, things will change presto, presto, prestissimo.

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the year of playing the piano – it’s not the Hewitt way

That old Variation 3. The Phantom is quite right. It’s a bastard. Yes, I get the meaning of ‘variation’ but 12/8 is just sneaky. I find myself leaning into the text like an old granny who’s lost her specs, to see how the two right hand lines fit together. That’s before I’ve even got started with the left, which I’ve taken to playing a little staccato to remove fingering difficulties. I know. It’s not right, not right at all. Still, at least three times this morning both hands reached the first repeat mark at the same time.

Thence to my book. Hmmm. Day so far: two words, research, delete two words, write two more, drift to piano, drift back to Mac, delete one word, research, toast and honey, tea, a new idea, research, write three words, toast and honey. I am a failure. Never mind the book. Honey on Ash Wednesday?

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the year of playing the piano – it is the Hewitt way

So, I have a DVD – Bach Performance on the Piano, by Angela Hewitt. I’m just about to watch it. Will it depress (oh God I’ll never be able to do that) or inspire (if I spend every waking moment at the keyboard I might get a reasonable half a bar). Whatever Ms. Hewitt suggests, practising in the morning before work is A Good Thing. When I return, I don’t feel so pressured, so things go more smoothly. Except for Variation 3, which the Phantom tells me is uber-difficult. Yet even with that I’m down to the first repeat mark, hands more or less together, and tonight I HEARD THREE LINES. Afterwards, I played Chopin’s First Prelude. I can safely say that Chopin and Ms. Hewitt would not have liked it, but gosh, I did enjoy myself.

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the year of playing the piano – a small quiz question

New plan. I got up early this morning and practised before I went to work. Pluses and minuses. Plus: works well, feel virtuous. Minus: don’t want to go to work.

My current difficulty with Variation 3 is differentiating the voices. My edition, the Barenreiter Urtext, follows each voice very firmly. But my fingers don’t follow instructions. They prefer the mix up/mash up school. Some unBachian language ensues. It’s a relief to return to two-voiced Variation 1, which is a doddle in comparison. Not that I allow myself to return too soon. At least an hour of agony before any relief.

But relief there was today. The Phantom has sent his pianist’s guide, and includes a wonderful anecdote of Rudolf Serkin playing the whole Goldberg shebang for an encore. By the end, he had reduced his audience to three. I’ll send a book to the first person who can name the three.

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