“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, March 14, 2022

Leaping To and Fro: Rachmaninoff Prelude in G Minor


    My colleague in the English department had a framed cartoon on the wall over his desk. A cowboy rushes out of a saloon, the swinging doors flapping. His eyes widened in panic, he runs toward a horse hitched at the trough. The caption reads: "And he ran from the saloon, jumped onto his horse and rode off in all directions."

    I think of this image every time a student brings in a leaping problem, one that requires leaping to and fro at a quick tempo. More often than not, when there's a problem, it's because the muscles that
propel the hand in one direction haven't had time to release before going back in the other direction. Repeated over several bars, this can add up to considerable discomfort. Just as the English student needs to learn to organize his thoughts, we pianists need to organize our directions. We can't go two directions at once. The answer is simple. Only go one direction at a time. ("Sir, this is a one-way street." "But, officer, I was only going one way!")

    Okay, okay. I hear the grumbling. This is about grouping. One way to organize groups is to start from the heavier to the lighter. Chord to single note, for example. Then, use the single note as a springboard to land back on the next starting chord. By springboard I mean something like a diving board that propels the hand to the next place, a passive motion that allows the hand to let go for a split second. By using the chord as the organizing factor, the playing mechanism won't feel as if it's going in two directions at the same time. Notice, too, that the left-hand leap is farther than the right, so it will move first.

    As I reviewed the video, I noticed I didn't start "in" as I recommended. I felt this as a greater distance than it needs to be. So, do as I say, not as I demonstrate. Also, when leaping to a place directly in front of the torso, lean slightly away, in this case to the left in order to avoid twisting at the wrist.

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