Monday, February 11, 2013

Piano Public and Private

Strange assumptions get made about people and pianos.  One concerns the piano as a by definition public instrument.  This means that people who play the piano must keep a steady beat (whatever that is), and furnish reliable accompaniments to whatever other source of sound happens to be around, whether a bunch of people singing folk songs or virtuoso string players.

But this quality of the piano is developed at the expense of the private piano, the instrument that a child is alone with, either colossally bored by or wondrously enamored of.

In my experience as a teacher the private pianist easily morphs into the public pianist because the ear responses are awakened.  When other musicians come into the picture adjustments are made because it is the natural thing to do.  It is far from lopsided or authoritarian in either direction.

People have been known to express astonishment when I tell them that rhythm should not be the first element of music that pianists learn. But I firmly believe that the different registers of the instrument, and different resonant combinations throw off different internal rhythms that make it virtually impossible for sound-sensitive children to separate out the element of time and treat it objectively.

I compare the phenomenon to the heart monitor next to the hospital bed.  The heart beat murmurs away with the seconds clearly marked off.  Then a bell rings and the murmur becomes a tsunami of violent crests and troughs.  Impossible that all that action takes place within the same time unit as the murmur.