Diary of a Return: week 2, day 5

TD2 (1)

Editor’s Note:  This diary entry is the ninth 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/


Friday, September 26


Oof.  It was a humbling day at the piano.  As planned, I recorded the whole Janáček, and let’s just say it’s a good thing the recital isn’t next week.  I simply haven’t spent enough time on this music.  Some of Janáček’s lovely sounds come out, but it’s possible that I’ve been luxuriating in Janáček’s sounds a little too much, and not enough on giving them to a listener on a silver platter.  Even as I play, I realize my glorious imagination has probably been filling in where my actual playing left off, misleading me into thinking the piece was more prepared than it was.  A friend of mine once commented that when we first play for someone, we suddenly hear what they’re hearing, not just the music we imagine.  Even just playing for a recording device works that way for me.  I become disappointed as I move from piece to piece, and even though I move on, my concentration is probably affected by continually lowered expectations.

I now record myself much earlier in the process of learning a piece than I used to.  Back when, I only engaged in the valiant act of recording myself late in my game, when I started doing practice performances for people.  Then, several years ago, I decided to record the Bach Partita in e minor before dropping it from a recital program.  It was so demanding that I wanted a recording of it, especially because practicing and performing that piece – although gorgeous and rich – put me in such an intense frame of mind that I doubt I’ll want to play it again.  (A friend who specializes in early music told me that e minor is the key of unrequited love – and considering the sadness, rage, and bitterness in those dances, I believe it).  The Partita improved so much from my careful listening to repeated takes that I vowed to record myself in the future from the first moment I could play a piece from A to Z.


I have kept my word, and I am happy and relieved to say that what I hear is changing.  My proclivities used to include what I call “over-appreciation”: I could stop a piece dead just to set apart a beautiful chord or melody or ornament.  Of course, as soon as I set it apart, it lost its meaning along with its context.  I am relieved to say I almost never hear that any more.  I also went through a period of time when I couldn’t feel the meter in my recordings.  My gold standard for bringing out the meter is to imagine that a listener would sway from downbeat to downbeat.  I sometimes need to move from downbeat to downbeat better, but in general, this element is also improving.


Still, I always hear something on my recordings that keeps the music from speaking.  And no matter how humbling, I would rather know now!


I am daunted by the work I need to do to get the Janáček in shape to perform, and I don’t have a lot of time today.  I work on my newly revealed issues one at a time.  I am relieved to make some progress.  I am eager to make more, but… how do people ever find the time to prepare for performances while living real lives?  I don’t even have kids!  Besides, I feel like I need a break.  It’s supposed to be a gorgeous weekend, and I plan to spend a lot of it outdoors.


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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