Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the fourteenth 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, October 3
You’re dying to know how my lesson with Carol Montparker went, I am sure. It was great! For three reasons, if you don’t count being in the presence of Carol and her lovely husband in their art-filled house. Which you really should.
Okay, the three reasons the lesson was a great experience are
- Carol’s comments
- Playing through almost half of my repertoire for someone I respect
- Listening to the recording afterwards.
First, Carol’s comments. Every time I finished a piece, she kindly announced that it was so beautiful that she had almost nothing to say. “Just one teensy comment”. Funny thing though, we managed to fill two hours with thirty-five minutes of repertoire and her single teensy comments! Actually, most were fairly teensy. Only once did she have to stop me a couple of measures into the piece to remind me that quality of sound, not acrobatic feat, was the point. Fortunately, I was able to adjust as soon as she set me straight. Otherwise, most of her comments had to do with dynamic markings or articulations that I wasn’t fully bringing out. And what a difference they made! Whole sections hinge just on following composers’ directions.
She caught me in one hilarious rhythmic error, a result of being so traumatized by the effort to play a leaping three- chord motive in Le vent (if you have played it, you know where that is) that I took a little nap to recover before moving on. It reminded me of playing the Brahms b minor Rhapsody in high school. In practice, my scales before the return were so erratic that I had developed an alarming habit of playing them over again immediately to correct the mistakes from the first run. During my end-of-year solo recital, though, the scales went just the way I wanted – they were so clean, driven, and scary that for a moment I didn’t know what to play next. Several decades later I’m learning the same lesson: just go on.
It was so good for me just to practice performing all that music. I was thrilled that my hands barely shook. I think my reduced shaking is partly because my performance gumption is returning, and partly because I’ve figured out one reason for my shaking: when I’m nervous I tend to tense my upper torso. Why? Because I tense a bit in practice, and in performance we do more of whatever we do in practice. As I hold less in practice, I’m happy to see that I’m holding less, and shaking less, in performance.
Meanwhile, it was good for me to pick up after little errors, and to keep going on even when I wasn’t 100% pleased. I could use more work on instant forgiveness, though. In one place, I have to say I failed completely. I had a little internal temper tantrum when my left hand stumbled during a scale. Even though this scale has been beautiful at home! (I should have a pin like one of my grad school roommates had that said, “I played it better at home.” She wore it to orchestra auditions to lighten herself up). Well, there is a history here. My left hand seems to have a Pathological Shyness Syndrome. Whenever it’s the center of attention, it just crumbles. I need to give it special tender loving care as I approach its exposed passages, and I guess I didn’t do it. To be fair, it is improving, but when it stumbled I was annoyed and disappointed.
But I’m not complaining. I was there not just for Carol’s invaluable comments, but also to be reminded about things like the need to let go and move on, and where I have to put my attention in practice and performance. I’m happy about the whole experience.
From the recording, I learned several little details about quality of sound and timing that I’m able to apply right away when I practice later in the day. The coda of the first movement of the Pastorale builds up to an exciting climax, but it will be more fulfilling if I let it expand instead of giving in to the temptation to hurry. And the left hand/forearm, in its pathological shyness, tends to cringe a little away from the piano, falling into the heel of the hand instead of the keys, creating a dull sound. I know I can give it the special loving care it needs to proactively play right into the keys.
I am so looking forward to 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.