Diary of a Return: week 1, day 3

TD2 (1)

Editor’s Note:  This diary entry is the third in a series of entries describing Teresa Dybvig’s strategies for preparing for an upcoming recital after a long break  from performing. Keep posted for further installments.  For more about The Well-Balanced Pianist, click on this link:  http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/

Wednesday, September 17


When I wake up, I start thinking happy thoughts.  That’s the rule!  Troubles will remain safely in place until after the performance.  I read my performance script, stretch a bit, and go to the piano.  I warm up, start each section, and do a little calm looking/listening/planning-ahead practice.


I sit down and try out my lists of sounds, and learn how to cooperate with the piano.  This I accomplish by finding what Dorothy Taubman called the “point of sound” on the keys (a piano technician would call this the “aftertouch”): the little bump in between the top and bottom of the keys.  She taught us to aim to this spot and follow through, without stopping, to the bottom of the key, for every note.  Every volume and color we want is produced by moving through the point of sound in a particular way.


Nearly thirty years ago, when I first studied the Taubman approach, it was because my hands and arms hurt so badly I could barely brush my hair, let alone play the piano.  It’s an understatement to say I was grateful for all the Taubman approach concepts that enabled me to play again, but the point of sound was the first element that made me happy.  I have always been a sound person, and learning how to make any piano’s best sound changed my life.  If I have only one minute to get to know a piano, I spend it with the point of sound.


The program begins.  I successfully remain present while others play; some performances are excellent and moving.  A Kuhlau trio for two flutes and piano is a pleasant surprise.  I had never heard it before, and I enjoy the combination of classical liveliness and early romantic sentiment.


It’s a good thing that I planned to be present with every performance before my turn comes to play: I am last on the program.  Playing with focus and freedom after sitting for an hour is a good challenge for me.  When it comes time for me to play, I smile and walk to the piano.  I quickly describe the inspiration for Danseuses – a column carved in the shape of a female figure.  To tell the truth, at the time I tell them it is layers of figures, but later I learn I was incorrect on that point.  Oops!  At least I got the column part right.


I sit down, and almost throw my hands up to the piano and start without preparation.  In a quick save, I open my sternum, rest my shoulder blades down, and touch the keys, feeling a luxurious connection to the piano.  I’m already listening to the pulse, so I sink into it and start the piece.


Debussy packs a lot of action in these two pages – he asks us to create several sensuous chordal layers while jumping constantly from region to region of the piano.  The secret for me is such freedom in jaw and torso that I can move quickly to the next chord, and have lots of time to make whatever sound I want.  There is just one smudged note –a chance to practice instant forgiveness! – but mostly, I am immersed in music, and enjoying it.  The scherzo really does go just the way I want.  The big surprise is the trio.  As planned, I move directly from the first iteration of the scherzo to the best attitude of my body for starting the scherzo.  From then on, it goes so well that I don’t need any of my cues – jaw, shoulder blades, dynamics, anything.  My hands play it with no instruction from me.  My husband later tells me this sounds creepy to him, but I love it!  I listen to the music inside me, and the sound comes out in to the room with no effort on my part.  The Rondo is… fine.  Some sections feel a little wild, and I have a disappointing stumble in the coda.  It’s a little late to realize I neglected to write a strong finish into my performance script!  Next time… On the positive side, I feel engaged in the shifting moods – welcoming, happy, thinking, arm-waving, joking.  And they seem to come out.  People’s remarks to me afterwards are warm and specific.


After lunch, I listen to the recording.  This pedal is still okay!  I like the Debussy.  I have put a lot of attention on Beethoven’s fussy 2nd-beat staccato, while still creating a nice downbeat sound.  That is working; now it’s time for attention to larger groupings.  The Rondo did not thrill me.  Happily, I recognize several concrete ways to improve it.


I get to work.  Wow, I’m tired!  Just 10 minutes of performance took a lot out of me.  Still, I get involved and make progress on that Rondo.  I listen for even 16ths and make sure I have a good preparation for my left 5th finger when it starts a motive.  I also do slow practice on Debussy’s moto perpetuo Le vent dans la plaine.  More of that lies in store for me, but at the moment I heartily feel I deserve my swim in the Sound.



Teresa Dybvig is founder and director of The Well-Balanced Pianist, an organization which presents programs across North America based on an integrated approach to teaching, learning, and performing. Previously on the faculty of the Taubman and Golandsky Institutes, Dr. Dybvig now teaches privately in Long Island, Manhattan, Chicago, and Denver. She specializes in helping pianists with playing-related injuries.   


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