Diary of a Return: week 3, day 1

TD2 (1)

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


Monday, September 29

Three experiences from this past weekend are helping me practice today.



One experience was a lovely recital played by one of my students.  Among other pieces, he played Miller’s Dance from the Three-Cornered Hat by de Falla, a Mendelssohn Song without Words, and the Franck Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue.  He has been working on his quality of sound along with balancing different layers, and wow, could you hear it.  Every sound he made was beautiful.  Listening to him play, I thought about his trajectory of progress, starting with recovery from injury, through amassing of technical skills, some tightening up of his rhythm and pulse, right through his newfound control over sound.  He has always had the bottom-line quality I need to hear in a performance – the ability to make the audience feel that he is playing for us because he loves the music and he wants us to hear what he appreciates in it.  But still, he has progressed so much!  It reminds me of something I already know but sometimes forget in the seeming urgency of recital preparation: every performance is merely a moment in time, not the definition of who the person is as a performer.  I also admire the way my student has made performing manageable for himself, despite a demanding job.  He no longer plays 80-minute recitals.  His recital yesterday was over within an hour, and nobody seemed to feel cheated.


Another of my interesting weekend experiences was a conversation with somebody who loves to listen to music, but is not an educated musician.  I asked him what he wanted to hear in a performance.  His answer was shockingly unexpected.  He wants “temporal resolution.”  If you’re like me, you can’t even imagine what that could mean.  He explained helpfully that if it were a photograph, it would be expressed in pixels – the more pixels per inch, the higher the resolution.  For him to understand music he is listening to, time groupings need to be clear to him.  He needs to know how much to listen to, and each subsection of a piece needs to be short enough for him to grasp.  He needs to know where a musical sentence begins and ends, and where the paragraph begins and ends.  I told him that, probably in a fit of projection, I expected him to say something about communication or story line.  He laughed and said that maybe if we both stepped back far enough, we would be saying the same thing.  I reflected that we probably don’t have to step back very far at all.  We tell stories with words, sentences, and paragraphs, and the spoken word is senseless unless these divisions are clear.  Music requires phrases and sections to be clear and audible.  As a matter of fact, harmony and melody are incomprehensible without the beats in meters they hang on.  I like to think that I make an effort already to have high “temporal resolution,” but I have a feeling that may be a large part of what was missing last Friday when I recorded my Janáček.  I’m so happy to have a new concrete goal to work toward.


The other weekend experience that helped my practicing was a recording of the first book of Debussy Preludes.  To tell you the truth, I found the playing mechanical and heavy.  However, the sound the pianist got for the left hand melodies in Le vent dans la plaine (”The wind in the plain”) made me realize I was holding my shoulder blade – and hence my upper arm – up, contrary to my Feldenkrais instructor’s advice.  I was so sure that resting my upper arm and shoulder blade would help that I practiced right then and there, during my day off in the middle of a gorgeous weekend.  As I played, I realized that I had let my left hand be affected by all the activity in the right hand.  They do overlap, playing right on top of one another, but the right hand has to move… well… like the wind, while the left hand can and should move at a slower pace.  How stable the piece felt when I eliminated this “sympathy” of the left for the right’s movement.


I got a lot done, (mostly) not practicing over the weekend!


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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