before and after . . .

by mulberryshoots

Some of you know that I’ve practiced the piano for a long time. My teacher, Basil Toutorsky, taught me how to practice: read the notes for the right hand, then the left hand. Look at the phrasing lines, the dynamics and then play both hands together. Study only one bar at a time until you can play it accurately three times in a row before you move on to the next bar. Slow and steady. Rigorous. Then, speed it up a little. Practice with the metronome so that your rhythm is accurate. Once this process has been followed for one page, stop there. Go back over that page until the notes and the playing start to make musical sense. Play the entire page three times in a row without mistakes before moving forward to the next page. If you make a mistake on the third try, start over again. This was the drill.

Fast forward to today where my facility for sight-reading sometimes gets in the way of patient study habits. Lately, I’ve been drawn to pieces either transcribed or composed by Franz Liszt. This is a kind of anomaly for me because my favorite composer is Bach. One Liszt piece is called “Liebeslied” when it was written originally by Robert Schumann as a wedding gift for his wife, the concert pianist, Clara Schumann. The melody and the harmonies are simple and very touching. It is also called “Widmung” for reasons I’m not aware of once Liszt took it, added sections and embellished it with his usual fanfare of rolling arpeggios and movie-like thematic blow-ups. When Van Cliburn won his tumultuous victory at the Tchaikovsky competition during the Cold War, he played this piece as an encore. A young Asian pianist, Aimi Kobayashi who looks to be about eleven years old, also played it recently as an encore in Russia. (Click her name for a link to listen to this piece on YouTube.)

Anyhow, back to practicing, there’s usually a point in time, a tipping point if you will, when a piece morphs from a study exercise to a piece of music. This phenomenon happened to me recently, a couple of days ago while playing this piece. It went from a period of time over several months, reading the various sections of the piece and playing all the notes. . . to suddenly playing it with a more intuitive grasp of the piece so that the music flows on its own.

In a way, I was thinking about this as a “before” and “after” — from notes on pieces of paper that are transformed into sounds capable of arousing a listener’s emotions. Even if you’re not a pianist, don’t play a note, or, if you think you’re tone-deaf and can’t listen to music, you’ll get it when you listen to this music and it connects with you.

Nothing better.