Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Specificity Forever!

What a treat to run into a familiar face completely by chance, to realize that I know the face, then to recall a day in a 5th-grade classroom more than 20 years ago when that young person and I had an unforgettable exchange about Fuer Elise.  Of course I remember her;  I have thought about her often.

I was volunteering in a school on Manhattan's upper West side.  Once a week I would come play something on the piano and integrate the experience somehow with their work in Language Arts--fancy word for English class.  The project that week involved the class writing reviews of my performance that day.  (I think we were working on different types of adjectives: descriptive, qualitative, etc.)

This young woman found my playing lacking in expressivity and said so in no uncertain terms, pointing out specifically the absence of dynamics in my playing.

I had the score with me, an Urtext edition, i.e., with no editorial additions.  Most of the piece is, in fact pianissimo, which makes perfect sense once you realize that it is a love letter and probably a secret one, to someone named, not Elise, but Therese. (Beethoven had notoriously terrible handwriting and the misreading has stuck.)

This girl had learned the piece from a typically overedited children's book in which it is assumed that dynamic change is the only thing a child will get interested in.

My question: How come her attention was drawn to this aspect of my playing?  Was she recalling her teacher's insistent "louder!" or was she expecting some surge to manifest itself in my rendering corresponding to a malaise she felt while playing?  Who knows?