Lesson Three: Commitment
It was a little difficult to practice this week. But I made the effort. As repairs on the slab leak continued, we were staying in a hotel. I had to drive home to visit the piano and get a session in. It felt like an accomplishment to do so, in a good way. The house was nice and quiet, too, conducive to practice.
But even under normal conditions, itâ€™s not easy to get practice in. Iâ€™ve sometimes had to do it late in the evening, after a regular day of work. Not complaining in the least. Itâ€™s rather nice to sit down to it, perhaps with a glass of red sitting nearby. But I was reminded of something my trombone teacher told me in high school. He said Iâ€™d have to give up a lot of things if I wanted to be a musician, parties and other occasions, he meant. You had to make time to practice. I usually did it willingly. One summer in college I even decided to practice eight hours a day, and followed through with it.
Still, itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m improving rapidly. Itâ€™s a slow process, and frustrating. I still make some of the same mistakes. The Bach Prelude sounds so easy, but isnâ€™t. The etude by Anton Reicha, though I still practice it, Iâ€™ve pretty much given up on ever performing. Lee Ann is having me try a couple of new things.
One is to pick out four or five bars of a piece and work through it five or six times in a row. Next time you practice that piece, you pick out a different four or five bars for the same treatment. Eventually the entire piece will have been practiced in meticulous detail (or as close to it as I can get). Iâ€™ve started in on this method and I already think itâ€™s helping. I used to do the same thing on the trombone, of course.
The other thing she wants me to do â€” for now â€” is to exaggerate my wrist and elbow movements, to get a more flowing motion going with my hands and arms as I move up and down the keyboard. As said, I have a tendency to jab at the notes as if Iâ€™m sitting at the typewriter. In the Bach Prelude, I want to keep my fingers on the keys so I can easily find the notes again the second time around on the repeated arpeggios. But that doesnâ€™t sound as good as when I let my wrists turn and release the keys after I press them. Also, your hands start to stiffen if you donâ€™t move them.
Iâ€™ve been a little reticent to do all this arm and wrist swooping stuff Lee Ann wants because as a listener Iâ€™ve always hated musicians who make a lot of motion when they play. Like Lang Lang, for example. I close my eyes or look down when I hear him in concert. But Lee Ann doesnâ€™t want any motion for show. Itâ€™s a technical thing and after trying it a little it feels right.
A couple of professional pianist friends want to give me lessons too. Will this continue after my eight weeks with Lee Ann? I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™m thinking of buying the BartÃ³k â€œMikrokosmosâ€ books to have around. Maybe if theyâ€™re sitting there on the piano, Iâ€™ll make a habit of playing a little every day.
As Iâ€™m plodding my way through the two BartÃ³k pieces (Nos. 71 and 77 of â€œMikrokosmosâ€) at my third lesson, struggling to find the right notes and fingerings, Lee Ann points out a bit of detail that Iâ€™m completely missing. BartÃ³k has supplied phrasing marks â€” where breaks and breaths occur; suggesting contours of lines â€” and not only does the music sound more interesting if you follow them, but the hands and fingers start moving with a greater purpose. I started to craft little gestures with the phrases, rather than a dull succession of notes.
While the pianist in the YouTube video can play No. 77 faster and more precisely than I can, heâ€™s not following BartÃ³kâ€™s phrasing. I think I may be able to play the piece better than him. Eventually.