WHAT THE HECK IS A "PIANO"?
Updated: Feb 22
Almost as difficult to define as is "music," it is exceedingly difficult to define precisely what and who The Duchess is, and what she signifies in my life. That's a task in process since she arrived in late April, 2022. She is more than just wood and strings, and more than just a "musical instrument"--although she is surely a most gorgeous one of those!
All that glitters is my piano, my beautiful golden girl, all that thrills are her ivory keys and the melodies they unfurl. All that carry me aloft are the dulcet songs she sings, the sweetest tone and touch has she, so bright, the treasures that she brings!
I can say with certainty that she is:
-- a platform which allows me to express my love of music and my creativity
(“The piano as a medium for expression is a whole world by itself. No other instrument can fill or replace its own say in the world of emotion, sentiment, poetry, imagery and fancy” – Leopold Godowsky)
-- a mechanism that allows me to improve my technique of making music, and sometimes delights a listening friend
(“PIANO, n. A parlor utensil for subduing the impenitent visitor. It is operated by pressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.” – Ambrose Bierce)
-- an aesthetic product and artwork in furniture that is lovely to behold
-- a metaphor for desire, love of life, and gratitude for the opportunity to express myself
-- a part of me most days when I sit down to practice; other days when I apply technique and am fully present in my playing such that I move inside and get lost in a piece of music, she becomes me in whole and not just in part.
(From Robert Estrin's vlog on differences between the elements of technique and musicality, Carl Bowles says that if listeners don't see him playing the piano but hear him, they think he is an accomplished pianist. That's because he forms "a Vulcan mind meld with the piano enabling me to channel my musical ideas." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxQbblojI9Y )
-- more than an "extension" of who I am; she becomes me when we sing together
("It happens very rarely, but when it happens it's worth waiting for, that the instrument becomes part of your body." -- Jack Brymer, an English clarinettist)
I have quizzed some of my pianist friends about what they think their piano is, and if they have personalized the product by bestowing a name on him or her, or assigned a gender to their piano; Most have not. (One of my best friends just named her new handdrum, "Joy.") I went in search of what famous pianists (and other instrumentalists) have said, thought, and felt about their pianos, and I'll be adding to these quotes as my research turns up more information:
Liszt said: "My piano is for me what a ship is to a sailor; more indeed: it is my very self, my mother tongue, my life."
I've also loved finding other "unknown" pianists who share their answer. I happened upon a YouTube video by pianist and teacher Lisa Witt, asking and answering the question, "How can you tell a really good piano player." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2wUNvJth6M
In response one person commented: "The one common aspect among good players I have known is that they demonstrate a sense of "oneness" with the instrument. They are not only "good" in the broad technical sense, but they make the instrument an extension of their own inner selves. This gives the impression that the instrument is doing exactly what they intend it to do from moment to moment, and there is no forcing the outcome, because that forcing would be superfluous. Some might call this aspect, 'flow,' or 'being in the zone.' So, when someone really is good at playing, it's like a light goes on in my mind, and I say to myself, 'oh yeah...that's really good.'"
Perhaps being "really good" as a pianist and "one" with my piano, is all about something mysterious such as the alignment of the stars or being in some kind of zen headspace. I'm waiting for delivery of a May, 2022 book by violinist Natalie Hodges, Uncommon Measure, because I suspect there will be some kind of resonance with this blog's topic, or it may inform me on another important musical matter.
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