Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the eighth 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/
Thursday, September 25
I devote myself again to the first half of my recital. Some slow practice and interpretive work on the Debussy, and then serious time with Janáček. I am determined to record all 30 minutes of the Overgrown Path tomorrow, so I do slow practice with and without the music.
I am so grateful for the interpretive markings of great composers. In measures 6 and 7 of Janáček’s Words fail!, the accelerando, crescendo, and sfp clear up this otherwise mysterious phrase, and show how he wants me to handle the syncopated note. In measures 49 through 57 of They chattered like swallows, I would be at sea trying to figure out the phrase groupings, but helpful sf, crescendi, and diminuendi give them to me on a silver platter. I would never have decided that the crescendo would move right through measure 57, gasping to the shocking ppp in the next measure. I would never have created that rollercoaster of emotions on my own. Thank you, Mr. Janáček! Debussy’s diminuendo in measure 34 of La terrasse tells me which of the 3 layers to bring out – the sigh in long notes. The running-note figure still emerges after the sigh ends to take us to the next musical event. And two crescendi in the Général, in measures 58 and 67, create a hilarious overdone grand-gesture effect. I have great fun with those crescendi, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the imagination to think of them myself. Sometimes I picture composers including interpretive markings in an act of self-protection against lesser musicians handling their music. More likely, they were just part of the music they heard. Whatever the case, I’m so grateful.
While I’m doing my slow practice, I make an effort to practice the skills I learned in the last Skype lesson with my brilliant Feldenkrais instructor, Sharon Oliensis. The most important points were to keep my whole sternum open and soft, and the shoulder blades rested down. When I succeed, the sound is so much richer, and the tiniest movements get me where I need to go.
You may have noted that I said “whole sternum.” I was shocked and rather embarrassed to learn that my sternum is not simply the knobs between the collarbones. The sternum runs from those knobs down to the place where the rib cage opens out. Who knew! Not me. Meanwhile, I had no idea how much I was scrunching it in, whatever it’s called. Since Sharon educated me about the sternum and suggested I keep it more open, I have noticed that I scrunch it in whenever I feel something poignant in the music, whenever I am about to play a subito p, whenever I am about to play something that requires concentration, whenever I am about to play something I’m insecure about, when I am about to play a sound color that is important to me… You could say I find any excuse to scrunch it in. Yikes. The good news is that I seem to be educable. I can now play for whole minutes at a time without scrunching my sternum. It feels so free and open. Why did I ever do all that scrunching? Well, I have never been a Freudian when it comes to movement. It can be interesting to know why an unproductive habit came to being, but it’s more important to me to engage in a better habit.
Sharon also suggested I sit little farther back from the piano, so I could lean forward a bit more. Well, blush. I know this already. To be honest, I had recently found myself playing with my elbow in back of my centerline, a huge hint that I’m sitting too close. Or leaning too close. It seems that when I feel a little insecure, or feel the music is especially intimate, I just want to snuggle up to the piano. What a difference it makes when I don’t crowd my piano-playing limbs like that. Thank you, Sharon, for urging me to live up to what I know.
I often reflect that we humans rarely live up to what we know. How much better the world would be if we did.
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.