THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES, AND MAKES MUSIC LIVE!
Updated: Jun 12
The COCA-COLA company claims that "Advertising slogans are a part of everyday life for consumers around the world,and Coca-Cola has produced some great ones throughout our nearly 130-year history...Our longest-running tagline, “The Pause That Refreshes” (1929), was used in one form or another for almost three decades."
Not that I want to promote drinking their products -- because I do NOT promote health-compromising added-white sugar or sugar-substitutes in foods or drinks.
I pretty much gave those up about five years ago. That excepts an occasional piece (yes, just one, per day of indulgence) of See's candy (my favorite chocolate, if I let myself go there!), or a 1/2" slice of a "St. Honor's" Italian Wedding/Birthday cake (from San Francisco's famed Dianda's Bakery on Mission Street!) on the extremely rare occasions (mine or another person's) of a special birthday when I select that cake; all else pales by comparison. Anything less than those sugar treats are ordinary and get boring to -- and bad for -- me and my health.
PAUSING holds many gobsmacking, magical, blissful,
and beneficial gifts, especially in the realm of music.
Since my return to the piano and lessons in May 2020, my mentor neighbor friend, Joe, whom I met about a year later, was the first person to bring this point home to me when it came to playing The Duchess and expressing my keen love of Romantic era music.
I was familiar with the critical nature of pausing, from my previous three years of regular weekly lessons and a good bit of reading in the Alexander Technique, courtesy of my teacher Elyse Shafarman of The Body Project. (Julliard professor Noa Kageyama featured an interesting study on pausing between practices of a piece). However, I had never applied "the pause" to playing music on the piano -- until Joe first brought the point home. (I had also apparently not been at a stage in my piano technique studies, but sadly to me, that my two teachers felt it was important to teach me phrasing, breathing, and pausing, and so they had not! This point is brought home by online piano teacher Ilinka Vartic at about12 minutes into her wonderful vlog lesson on proper use of the metronome; she discusses the problem of "eating the rests" and not seeing rests as part of the music, too)
I was recently reminded of the importance of pause in music when Bruce Nalezny, a local composer-pianist-broker friend (who found my Duchess for me), introduced me to "Malaguena" played by Lucas Imbiriba, a fabulous classical guitarist.
I wonder if you might also feel some chills start up your back as I did at the exact two-second characteristic pause Imbiriba gave at the end of each major Section in the piece? It certainly caught my attention! To my ear, it "made" the music, and I was more gobsmacked by hearing those few seconds of rest in the sound, of pause, of silence, than I was by his amazing technique in strumming the strings and moving his fingers, though some may call my opinion beyond apocryphal.
I learned about the pause in music over a year ago when I had wanted to play a new piece, and consulted my high-school "classical music volume" from eight in The Scribner's Radio Music Library. That Library was and still is a blessed gift from my perspicacious mom who also bought Ms. Bellamy (my Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano) and weekly piano lessons for me at the same time. I happened upon Tchaikovsky's incredibly beautiful, lyrical "Reverie" Op. 39 from his "Children's Album" and after sight reading one line, choose it to learn. Here are two of my favorite interpretations of it, one by Lisitsa at 26.56 minutes in and one by Lang Lang.
I favor these interpretations above all I have heard because they both have a slow tempo and the tenderest of expression that sounds "right" to my ear. Lisitsa (whom I generally and disappointingly find to be a speed demon) plays the piece in 2.88 minutes while Lang Lang, surprisingly, plays it faster at 2.43 minutes.
So what is it that Joe first pointed out and taught me?
When I played it a few times for him, he asked me right before the final four notes or chords at the end Section A and also at the repeat of Section A at the very end, to pause and physically take a mini-breath. I did so and was gobsmacked. Joe's ear had picked up a critical point that added to my own pleasure in the hearing of my piece, and also to his! He was certainly onto something and had gratefully, pointed it out to me.
I played this piece a lot and on most of the 40 pianos I tried out during the intense four months of my search for my first grand piano. I played it at almost every single Bay Area piano store and on some rebuilt pianos in piano tech's workshops that I also visited during my search. When I first met Bruce, he also played part of the piece (I think it was by sight reading only!), Section A, so that I could sit back and hear the tone of the readymade piano I was seriously considering buying at the time. I was awestruck by the lyrical tone and tenderness I heard in Bruce's interpretation, however I did not note the pause that Joe had encouraged me to add to my interpretation.
Nor have I noted any such pause by Lisitsa at the end of Section A and again at the end of the repeat of Section A at 29.30 minutes in. In Lang Lang's interpretation there is a hint of the pause at the end of the repeat of Section A, but none earlier. I wish his pause had been longer and more definitive (listen at 2.25 minutes in, as that is the precise spot I now insert a pause or breath).
Am I splitting hairs? I don't think so, but what do you think?
Even today I revisit and replay "Reverie" from time to time as it is lodged in my repertoire forever, although I have not yet taken the time to memorize it, or record a copy to post here, which I shall do.
And I always input the pause, because I prefer it that way.
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P.S. Images on this blog were taken a few weeks ago during a pause from the frenzy of urbanity when Ron and I spent seven blissful days camping at Furnace Creek at Death Valley. I particularly like the final picture below taken at about 7 am, of sunrise at Zabriskie Point. There was no better place to take a a pause than Death Valley, especially since one cannot get a signal anywhere in the park (or only rarely so). Thus, I noted that everyone reverted to old-fashioned friendliness, and peaceably and happily chatting with total strangers. All so good!
Further, I cannot help but add this post script as a possible unexpected treasure for anyone who gets to the bottom of this blog and who loves Tchaikovsky. Reviewing a few of my favorite interpretations of the "Reverie" I am discussing, I ran across a recording, likely from the 70s or 80s, of another, different "Reverie," by Tchaikovsky. It is one more incredibly melodic one, Op. 9 No. l. It is played tenderly on the composer's own piano by Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev (born in 1957 and winner of the Tchaikovsky competition in 1978 at age 21).
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