THE DIGNITY OF "TRIVIAL LITTLE PIECES"
If famed cellist Pablo Casals could do it – so can I!
While Vivian Mackie was studying cello with Pablo Casals in Spain in the early 50s,* she learned one or two “rather trivial little pieces,” but she noted that “they are never trivial in his hands. He dignifies everything he touches...and enriches...and respects every scrap of music–and he loved the sounds. He would often stop and say, ‘How beautiful, beautiful!’ And just play me two notes with tears in his eyes–‘Lovely, lovely!'"
Focusing on “trivial little pieces” is the wherewithall of my present musical self expression and piano lessons, and it finally seems about time to focus right there because I have learned that such pieces are neither “little” nor “trivial” at all.
Before my recent hiatus in piano lessons starting in March of this year, I pined mightily to play a number of gorgeous melodic pieces by some of my favorite Romantic Era composers such as Schumann (just listen to my favorite interpretations of Widmung or Romance both of which he wrote for Clara), Tchiakovsky (try his "October-Autumn Song" from the Seasons), and Chaminade (consider "Autumn" from Six Etudes) and finally, Largo in Gb Major or Prelude No. 10 from Rachmaninoff’s Ten Preludes).
I bought these scores, took one look at them, then ran screaming to deposit them in my “Future To Learn File.” I was daunted by the technical challenges, didn’t know how to accomplish them by myself, became frustrated because I could not “get” the melody to come out of the score when I tried to sight read them and get started, and knew that any future teacher would certainly not teach them to me right now.
I grew fatigued from continual disappointment, so early this year I decided to just “give up gracefully” and turn to simpler pieces. My decision was motivated by three things.
First, in January I had been a bit mollified when I accomplished Khachaturian’s incredibly gorgeous and simple “Ivan’s Song” (aka Andantino) and Stephen Heller’s No. 38 from his collection of 50 Etudes (recordings of both are posted at the top of my home page), and received rare compliments from my disciplinarian teacher at the time. This was a teacher who had triggered waves of depression and despair during the nine previous months of lessons, but I felt inspired by these late-date comments. Then I found Lang Lang's presentation of Andantino and was convinced this was a piece for me! ( We heard Lang Lang play Grieg's sole piano concerto at the SF Symphony spring 2023, pictured above and below).
Always in search of pieces composed by women composers, I then became motivated to find and learn by myself Louise Farrenc’s "Andante Grazioso" from 25 Etudes Faciles Op. 50 No.1 and find that I was thrilled by what I felt as “ease” and heard as “tenderness” as a result.
Maybe after all, there was something for me in “simple” pieces?
Second, in July I decided to set aside (for the most part) learning new musical pieces and pursue lessons in Dorothy Taubman’s arm-wrist-hand gestural playing technique in order to minimize the risk of exacerbating tenditinitis in my palm that came on in March, and reduce the risk of possible future repetitive use hand strain. As solace from not being allowed to “dance” at my piano and play pieces, I spent my time in these often boring piano lessons at the “ballet keyboard barre doing plies.” Once in a while at home I played through my simple pieces to keep them in my memory and fingers.
Since I was having to live with my simple repertoire, I slowed down and started to really listen to the tone of each note that I was playing. I began to push and pull the notes a wee bit when it came to phrasing, rubato, and musicality in what I heard in each one. Slowly I began to hear more than I had in the past.
Third, it was after the momentous downtuning of the pitch of The Duchess about three weeks ago, that what I describe above, was enhanced and made clear to me. I had had my piano downtuned to 432 Hz from the “standard” 440 Hz tuning of the grand majority of pianos for three principle reasons that I explored in a recent blog. I enthusiastically embarked on my new adventure into the “magical, meditative, calming” pitch.
A day ago I emailed piano teacher-composer Garreth Brooke about my current observations and feelings regarding his exquisitely simple and gorgeous composition “Waking” (featured in this blog). I told him that I now hear a wider range of dynamics from one note to the next, a higher “high” and lower “low” in each phrase, a sweeter tone, a deeper yearning, and clearly more overall nuance. It seems to me that 432 Hz is calling more out from inside me.
The fascinating thing is that when I now play “Andantino” or any other “simple” piece, I hear the same positive differences!
I still occasionally purchase scores that don’t fit my present ability, and I file them away as in the past. Just for now I want “simple” – and that no longer disappoints me. “Complex” just doesn’t seem to fit my piano dream puzzle or goals any more.
But dignifying every note I touch, fits perfectly!
* * *
ANSWERING (From Vol. II)
I wonder why I buy more scores
I certainly can’t immediately play,
then each one goes into my store
of pieces I’ll take up someday?
I thought about that puzzling question
and here’s just what I’ll say:
each score upon arrival surely
brightens up my day!
Not only that, I’m sure you know,
each represents the hope
that someday soon my love can show
for what the composer wrote,
no less the appreciation that I feel
for music light or austere
that inspires me to express myself
and lift up those who hear.
For once I know and fall in love–
it happens in just an instant–
and feel the chills come down my spine,
then to resist, I really can’t.
Any melody that to me speaks out
and leads me to my home
lets me know I’ve naught to fear
and will never be alone.
432 Hz (From Vol. II)
There is a special kind of joy
that comes along with music.
Some deeper well, a new-felt beat
that then our heart directs.
There is even more in store
in the process of discovery,
when dawn unwraps the freshest bud
and we finally see and hear.
Thinking then I was at the end
of all of music’s mystery,
had plumbed its depths and known its power,
then came another key.
Could there be some more to explore?
A level never known?
A pleasure not yet imagined?
An even deeper sound?
Could I be ready as the student
when another teacher arrived,
who saw in me a yearning soul
and recognized my drive?
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