“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.”

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Crossing Hands at the Piano: Jascha Heifetz and "Frère Jacques"

Jascha Heifetz
     The great violinist Jascha Heifetz had his studio on the second floor of Clark House at USC, northwest corner. It was across the hall from Muriel Kerr's studio, where one afternoon when I arrived for my piano lesson, I heard much giggling and what sounded like beginners playing "Frère Jacques" as a round. I didn't want to interrupt, so I waited. Just as I was about to knock, the door opened and there I was face to face with the master himself, Heifetz in the flesh. We had had encounters before, not necessarily unpleasant, but if truth be told, a little scary. He could seem quite severe. So there we were, face to face and I felt my
tongue wrap itself into a series of knots. But no matter, without so much as cracking a smile, he calmly explained as if it were the most normal of circumstances that he had been teaching Kerr how to play the round with hands crossed. And without stopping for a response, he strode across the hall and disappeared into his studio.
     It's not so easy. Try it.

Frère Jacques
     Heifetz could play the piano tolerably well. I suspect he thought this exercise would help develop something or other pianistically—coordination, independence—I don't really know. But as you know, gentle reader, if you've been paying attention to this blog, I am not a fan of practicing X in order to achieve Y. If you want some crossed-hands experience, look at Mozart K. 331, first-movement variations. Even in the Mozart, I might look for opportunities to uncross. In the Frère Jacques example, it isn't necessary to cross the hands, so there's really no reason to do it—except, oh, well, it's kind of fun.

     Kerr took great delight in showing me what she and Heifetz had been doing. I tried it. Fortunately, though, she didn't make me practice it.

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