Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Want You to Hear This, Emphasis on the "You"

Lately I have been discussing with friends and colleagues how I have managed to teach a severely challenged young man how to produce some moments of extraordinary beauty on the piano.

Though it is impossible to describe the process, one of the critical aspects has been my insistence that he hear the content of the piece in great detail: not just the chord but the potential voicing of the chord.  This requires a finesse to which he seems to have access only via his ear.  But it must speak to him or he would not persevere in the process of learning to play the music and he would just refuse to come to work on it.

I am struck by the lack of that element in most of our training: We are expected to play to a random audience at best; at worst to an audience of critics who will "tear us to shreds."  Most of our playing is otherwise unfocused.  We are trained to show off.

I remember Rubinstein walking on stage for an encore, looking down into the audience where there was a young girl with dark blond hair.  After a smile he launched into The Girl With the Flaxen Hair by Debussy.

Something similar happened to me once.  I was seated in the front row at a lieder recital by Thomas Quasthof.  After his first encore (My Way) he began An die Musik by Franz Schubert.  I had to cover my face; I cried through the whole thing.  When it was over I glanced up; looking me straight in the eye he said "Thank you."