PLAYING WHAT ONE LOVES, BUT LISTENING TO ALL
Updated: Jun 4
One of the principal elements I seek in any piano teacher with whom I work, is that I be allowed to choose the pieces I want to learn, with of course, my teacher's permission. Those pieces come principally from the Romantic era of music with an occasional adventure into the Impressionistic style of music.
I need this element in order to work constructively and happily with a teacher and be able to practice enthusiastically. My heart must be on fire, or at least full of burning embers suggesting a future fire, for me to get involved in the arduous process of memorization and then working out the rhythm (often a challenge) and all the other critical elements of credible "pianism" that I seek as my ultimate technical and musicality goals for any piece I undertake.
It's clear to me that I want to stick with this style of music to learn to play, from the perspective of my age and stage of life. I'm not on a concertizing track and won't be auditioning to enter a conservatory or join an orchestra. Thus, I don't need a comprehensive and thorough understanding of complex music theory and technique in playing many styles of music. Furthermore I have limited time in life to play through all my "first things first" that make my heart and soul soar, and that is Romantic era music!
However, I need to chose wisely and well by not selecting a piece far above my technical abilities. That is something that I cannot always identify (although my last teacher said I was very good at choosing pieces to learn that were within my range). If I am uninformed or being a bit blind, then I obviously welcome my teacher pointing out looming learning problems. At that point I usually set the piece aside in my growing Aspirational Score File to take up at a later date.
In the above or similar circumstance, the piano teacher of my mentor friend Joe, then chooses another piece or etude for him to specifically practice a focused technique that will lead him sooner rather than later, back to take on his aspirational score. I've not had one of my past three teachers propose that to me, but it seems like a good thing to do, especially if I am B&D (bound and determined) to play the original piece!
I would say that I am B&D to play "Largo" in Gb Major from Preludes Op. 23 by Rachmaninoff in his set of ten (see Sokolov play it at 37.32 minutes in; this video introduced me to Sokolov who immediately became one of my top two favorite living pianists today, the other one being V. Gryaznov; I could listen to him play his transcription of Borodin's Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 every day of my life!) and "Wigmund" by Schumann; this favored version is played by Ji-Yong Kim.
But listening to music is a matter aside from learning to play it. So, setting aside my preferred tonal music with strong melody lines, what is the import of listening to music that I don't prefer, even some that makes me cringe?
I found one answer on Julliard professor Noa Kageyama's bulletproofmusician.com website,quoting tuba instructor Daniel Perantoni:
"Perantoni recommended listening not just to the excerpts,
but to a wide range of music, both within and outside of
the classical realm. Sure, it’s important to know the excerpts
well and be able to perform them on command, but that’s
not enough. Developing one’s own voice and style is
important too – and this comes from having diverse musical influences."
His point reminded me of something I learned long ago from another friend, a minister and therapist, who once told me that when I run up against someone having a different perspective or opinion than mine, it gives me the opportunity not only to grow and if I care to, to change my opinion. It also allows me to put my ideas up against a difference, to test them and see if they still hold truth for me. In the latter case, I can come out of such a confrontation (hopefully a respectful and exciting exchange when one needs to defend one's position with logic and facts, if those exist!) with better, more clear articulation of my reasoning, and preference certitude.
Since I was trained as a lawyer albeit long ago, I relish "arguments," which to a lawyer says nothing at all about the tone or nature of the conversation! "Argument" to me does not mean arguing unpleasantly or disrepecting another person's opinion or life experience, even if I do need them to explain it to me for it to be a fully satisfying and educational discussion.
So how have I done what Professor Perantoni advises?
Just this morning in my Music Appreciation Hour at breakfast, I ran across the name of an composer-pianist, Nicolai Kapustin, about whom I had never heard. I was enjoying (he has an odd but satisfying sense of humor throughout this rather dense book on technique) Heinrich Neuhaus's book, The Art of Piano Playing, and decided to find out just who this Kapustin was?
I listened to Kapustin play his entire Impromptu Op. 66 No. 2 and was suitably impressed with what is said to be his classic-jazz fusion style, not to mention his flying hands and exquisite sense of rhythm, all coming from a placid, expressionless face and body. The piece is not bad at all, but played at such a narrow dynamic range that I rather quickly got bored and it was nothing I would choose to listen to again, as I do with my Romantic era pieces.
Then Neuhaus mentioned the name Max Reger as a modernist. Having some time ago explored John Cage, Ligetti, Berg, Shoenberg and a goodly number of other more modern "modernists" with no ill effects other than my reaction of "That's interesting....next!", I decided to check Reger out.
WOW! was all I could say when I undertook to listen to the full Monte of his organ piece, Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, Op. 57. To be honest, I gave up at minute 20 of the 23 minute piece. My brain and heart rebelled and yelled "ENOUGH!" and I shut him down.
My composer-pianist friend Bruce helped me grasp the fact that Reger is "one of the most 'cerebral' composers ever. His music is extremely intellectual and cleverly put together often with lots of chromaticism, massive dissonant chords, intricate counterpoint and more..." I'm unsure if Reger actually had no gift for, or just wasn't that interested in, the matter of melody, because I didn't hear any -- but I surely am!
Shortly after we met 1.5 years ago, Bruce was the first person who urged me to open my ears and consider all kinds of music, although he never explicitly told me why. It resulted in the below poem that encapsulates his meaning and, I hope, accurately paraphrases his advice.
To me the Reger piece sounded as commenters said, "mushy," or "like a panic attack," and as well, threatening and dark, coming from a disturbed soul not at all at peace. But I hear all of that in the dismal daily news, even when cleaned up a good bit by Amna Nevaz on the PBS evening news (my, how I miss Judy Woodruff!). I wanted to run away thoughout Reger's piece, but I bit my lip and carried on, until I could no longer do so.
I have to think more about the reasons to keep up my pursuit of finding and exploring new composers, particularly the modernists, when I so love and resonate to Romantic era music.
But for now I think I will go back to listen again to Gryaznov play Borodin for a third time today...and perhaps once more, then get on with the first 15 min. of my daily one or two-hour practice on my Duchess!
What’s Not to Like
“Dissonance,” he says,
“Is one of many ways
To experience far more,
And how you may explore,
And learn to appreciate
Movement and music’s pace
And, as you’ll see,
Emotionally from without.
Of course, it may shout
Or quietly overcome
And leave you oh, so glum.
Your silent expectations
Not there nor yet begun.
“But trust you, and I pray
Continue, as some say,
To carefully attend,
Focus well, and then
Rewards will surely come;
A push beyond the norm,
Suspend all coming fear,
Open up your ear
No less your mind.
To habit do not bend
Or mindlessly descend
“You will surely see
Rewards that before you lie.
Do not be so shy,
Or rely on rank tradition.
Take yourself in hand;
This is your promised land!
Though I may sometimes preach,
Within your musical reach
Is clearly far, far more:
Bliss and joy in store!”
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