3 Brief Blogs: Technical Situations That Seem the Same But Aren’t; Counting Out Loud; Sustaining a Dying Note
Three brief blogs:
#1 . Two similar technical situations – with an important difference.
#2. Difficulties encountered counting out loud while playing.
#3. Rekindling a note (“geriatrics” for old notes
#1 . Two similar technical situations – with an important difference.
Two similar technical situations – with an important difference.
Sometimes what appears to be a single technical difficulty, in need of a single solution. resolves upon closer inspection to involve a rapidly succeeding series of moments in time, during which one and then another technical issue arises. As if performing cognitive therapy upon ourselves, what had seemed an instant becomes filled with a number of separable events, one leading to the other, each one dependent on the one before. We have to disentangle the chain of events before we can understand how we got from place A to place B.
Related to this is when what appears to be one technical issue preventing a certain spot in the music from sounding its best, turns out to be affected by several, often unrelated, technical issues. In such a case they each needs to be addressed, before the passage as a whole works well. Initially, the pianist may be aware of only one of the issues, and when the pianist solves this issue, they are surprised that passage has not sounded any better. The other technical issues that affect that spot, were hiding in the wings, and now come to the fore. They all must be solved, even if they seem dissimilar to each other. The passage will not be executed as the pianist wants until they have successfully identified and, in turn, solved all of the technical issues affect the sound of that passage.*
* This reminds me of the long process by which a mountain builds up from the floor the ocean, getting taller and taller over a prolonged period of time, but is not seen by the sailors until its top just appears over the water’s surface. Everything leading to that moment is important even if it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It is always important to recognize your success as each step is accomplished while trying to sort through a tangled maze of issues.
#2 Difficulties counting out loud while playing.
Some students have a difficult time counting out loud while playing. It is not hard to understand why. The counting is done in one rhythm (all be it a simple one) but nonetheless a different rhythm than being executed by the figures. So counting is actually a ‘duet’ between two drummers, all enacted by the same person within the same body.
Rachael was playing the slow movement of K 488 in A Major. When she tried to count with her playing, her voice abandoned the counting-rhythm and followed the rhythm of the music, which is also to say the gestures of her body. The result was sometimes the counts were made with succeeding eighth notes, sometimes with sixteenth notes, and sometimes with notes longer than an eighth.
We tried a bunch of things all of which were designed to take the initiative and the control away from her ear and body and place it, somewhat arbitrarily at first, into her voice. So, often, the speed of her counting suddenly doubled or halved.
I played the first four measures. She sat next to me, turned off all her musical instincts, and robotically counted 1 2 3 4 5 6. This act was done impassively, as if daring me to throw her off course by my playing. Then we switched roles. I counted and she played. It was successful, in large measure I think to the close proximity between trying it one way and then trying it the other way. It became mostly about continuing a known experience.
I had her try to develop an alert ‘sense’ of when her counting might be going off. And, if she noticed it happening, then we made the default reaction be to stop in her tracks and make no further sounds, no matter where she was in a phrase. In so doing it required her to abort the inevitable forward flow of the music which was so instinct within her body. We then found a neutral starting point that preceded the moment when her counting diverted from the music.
The next step was far harder. We played together at the two pianos.
I played some of the orchestra part but mostly I played in unison with her. This time, as soon as she noticed that we were out of step with each other, I kept on playing and she had to find some way get back in step with me. Sounds simple; but it is not. What made it possible for her was letting go of having to go on to the next notes following the moment she became aware of the problem. Once her will was no longer committed to going on, she could assume a more reflective and listening posture, figure out where I was, and be able to skip the notes in between and start up again with me from the new location.
Often, when doing this together, the student will stop if they make a mistake, and attempt to play the note over again. But that would have simply triggered the condition of our not being in step with one another, which in turn meant she should stop playing and figure out where I was now. Sometimes she would know within an instant, sometimes it took more than a measure or two. What was important wasn’t how long it took her to re-synchronize, but that her default reaction to being out of step be not to continue on any further (until she deduced her whereabouts).
#3. Rekindling a note (geriatrics for old notes)
If, when a long held note held and gradually loosing its loudness, you choose a specific moment somewhere between its start and its finish, and listen to it anew, a curious phenomenon happens.
Sometimes I think of conscious attention as having entered a dark room, unable at first to see any of the objects that are in it, and then turning a light on and seeing those objects for the first time. We know that they were there all along, just minus the light, but the light is a necessary condition for our seeing them. Extending the analogy, when we turn the ‘light of consciousness’ on something it shines with a renewed brilliance.
If we apply this to listening to a long held note, updating our consciousness awareness that we are hearing the note, we seem to notice the sound having suddenly got a little louder; after which of course it continues to get softer. It may indeed have been present up to this point in time, but suddenly instead of decaying further it comes back to life, it seems to shine a little louder than it did an instant before. We have momentarily changed its course of getting softer. It is similar to that when we blow on a dying flame, it gets momentarily brighter.
One may well object that the sound doesn’t really get louder, only appears so to us. The listener does not hear the change, so of what use is it to the performer. But how I hear the in my consciousness in turn effects how I connect that note to the next note, and how I do that is something that the listener does notice. If I keep on doing it, the listener may turn to their companion in the concert hall and say “how marvelously that pianist connects her sounds, one to another; there is almost something magical about her sound – it doesn’t sound what I think a piano normally sounds like.”