Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Plaid Piano Lesson

The other day I read, for the first time, an essay written by a young woman, then in high school, about her piano lessons with me when she was ten.

I laughed aloud at the first paragraph, in which she recounted my comparing the acoustical effect of interacting tones to the different colored strands of wool intersecting in her plaid skirt.  I laughed because I do this all the time: i.e., I compare acoustical effects to the effects of color, weave, or fabric design in a student's garments.  (I have long known that, if I were not a pianist, I would be a fabric designer as, in a way, I am, when on the subway I craft my String Improvisations.)

But she went on to describe in detail her reaction to this, which was far more complicated.  She feared that I was condescending to a level of perception and awareness that, though very real to a child, is not customarily made central in a learning process.  I have thought about this ever since reading her essay.

Sound is extremely confusing because it is so variable.  Therefore, our perception of it must also be confusing as it, too, is subject to variables.  So I start with a visual gateway to perceptual awareness; alternatively sometimes with taste--a favorite food, perhaps, or a not-so-favorite one.

Plaids are terrific if you want to observe color variability.