“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

On Competition

It's Not a Competition:

At J. conservatory, the students of Mme. L. always won the concerto competition. It was expected; it was the norm. The student contestants expected it. Mme expected it. The entire school expected it. Yet, all of the teachers entered their students, pressing them into this futile exercise. X., a friend of mine who studied with Mr. F., prepared the concerto du jour, Mozart Coronation, to the exclusion of virtually all of his other repertoire. He was an obsessive/compulsive personality, as it seems many of the students were in those days (probably still are) and prepared as if his life depended on it. He told me he didn't want to disappoint Mr. F, but I know from other conversations that his unsupportive parents figured in the mix. His mother once visited his room near the school and pronounced it the product of a sick mind. Well, X. told me, maybe this time a different teacher would produce the winning performer. Wouldn't that be an upheaval. Maybe Mr. F. would get the respect he deserves.

The piano faculty assembled, along with Maestro J.M. and his conducting staff. The students congregated in the corridors, where they waited for their time to audition. Some, of course, would be in the practice rooms up to the last possible minute; X. was one of these. As a graduate student, I was somewhat above the fray. I'd lived enough to know that life didn't depend on only one performance, or on any one event, unless that event included being run over by a bus.

X. appeared on the scene just seconds before his appointed time. I was there to listen from outside, as he had asked, and gave him by best thumbs-up smile. He played like an angel. They let him play the entire concerto through, including the cadenzas, which I took to be a good sign. I waited by the stage entrance to congratulate him but when the door opened X. ran right past me muttering "I missed a note, I missed a note" over and over all the way to the men's room, where he vomited violently. X. played like an artist, suffered terribly and the winning contestant did not come from the studio of Mr F. that year. X. was last seen on a Kibbutz in Israel. In this case, the jury lived up to its pretrial publicity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Producing Synchronized Chords

A student wrote to me complaining of "wobbly" chords. He meant that in accompaniment passages of repeated chordal figures he often broke the chords
unintentionally. His solution was to rigidify his fingers, lifting the unneeded fingers away from his hand, in order to force the correct fingers to play simultaneously. This is no solution at all, but rather a prescription for disaster.

In order to accommodate different finger lengths, it is better to allow the hand to be slightly flatter and avoid gripping or locking the hand into a fixed position in order to force all the fingers to be the same lengths. No matter how hard you try, I promise you that the fingers will always be different lengths. By flatter I mean that the hand should maintain its normal curvature, not curled into a claw.

The manner of depressing the key, then, is downward, of course, but also slightly in the direction of out toward the torso. It is as if the intention is to move outward, but at the point of key contact there is a tread on the end of the finger that prevents an extreme slide outward. It is not necessary to leave the surface of the key. In fact, it is in most cases better after depressing the key to ride it back up just beyond the point of sound in order to repeat it. This has the effect of allowing the participation of the forearm, ever so slightly, in order to control the downward weight. It is a mistake to think of this as either just a finger movement or a wrist movement.

Try this in various combinations of white and black keys.

Happy chording!