Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the fifteenth 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, October 6: incorporating comments and observations from last week’s lesson, and technical work, and music review
The first item on my practice agenda is to review the music from last Friday’s lesson, incorporating both Carol’s comments and my own observations from the recording. Fun! The music is really starting to “speak”.
My right hand felt stretchy after I played Le vent on Friday, so I look at the recurring whirling figure. I realize I must incorporate a gentle staccato between the thumb and fourth finger. I previously thought that with good under-over shaping I could play it with a true legato, but that stretchy feeling is telling me that was overly optimistic. I have to concentrate on several levels – playing without the pedal and listening for the staccato, feeling the left hand and right hand cue one another, and feeling that nice, comfortable feeling that indicates an absence of stretching. I know I will have to do this for a while. Darn. Habits are much easier to establish than to change. The good news is that my hand feels so much better after this work that I feel certain this is a good step.
Then there is the first movement of the Pastorale. There are two technical issues to address. One is that left hand scale passage that disappointed me on Friday. Then there is the development, where I changed several left hand fingerings a few days before the lesson.
At Carol’s suggestion, I am lightening up the tremolos in the inner voices that precede the scales. That already helps my hand feel set for the scale. Then I make sure to breathe before the difficult passage. A pianist friend of mine who also teaches Alexander once advised one of my students to make a very soft hissing sound to ensure she exhales if she finds herself holding her breath during a piece. Fun fact: if you exhale fully, you will inhale. The lungs are built to expand once emptied, so unless our lungs are damaged, all we need to do to keep breathing is to exhale. I try this before my scale, and it is quite calming. It reminds me of a trick I have used previously, to “practice out the panic” that sets in right before a difficult passage. I never broke down the components of practicing out the panic; my goal was only to approach the passage without the mental and physical clutch that made it more difficult. I wonder if, unbeknownst even to myself, part of that clutch was holding my breath. Whatever the case, thank you, Renée!
The fingering change requires another solution. I noticed on the recording that, although I changed the fingering in the left hand only, it is the right hand who is stumbling. This reminds me of my very favorite tool for integrating new technical changes into a passage. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this already!
Don’t roll your eyes when I say I use mental practice. I know, I keep bringing up mental practice. This is different, though. This is how to use mental practice for the situation in which you have made a technical change, to only one hand, in a passage that is already learned. You probably noticed the tendency of both hands to just play their same old way when you put the hands back together. This is how to circumvent that tendency: physically play one hand while mentally practicing the other. Then switch. I don’t know if it matters which one you play physically the first time around, but I like to start with the one in which I made the technical change so I can monitor the change.
It’s not easy! I take this as a hopeful sign. If it were easy, I wouldn’t be changing anything. I have to go through the passage several times both ways in order to fully mentally practice the non-playing hand. Then I play hands together. Even though I knew I must be making changes to my hard physical-plus-mental practice, I am not prepared for how much more secure this passage feels. It feels so much better it’s hard to put into words. It’s like it feels simultaneously more automatic and more present.
That’s not it for the day, though. I’m determined to record the whole Janáček again, more successfully, on Thursday. So I work through the last half of the set, mindfully listening and paying attention to beginnings and endings. Tomorrow I will record it.
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.