Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the seventeenth 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/
Wednesday, October 8: reviewing, recording, reviewing, recording
Lots of recording in store for me today. I want to record the first half of the Janáček as well as the three Debussy pieces I’ll play at the Performers Club next week.
First I work on de-intensifying my approach to the first five Janáček pieces. While I’m at it, I incorporate some improvements I’ve made in the last few years to my left thumb and fifth finger (I always feel like my 5 and 1 are in cahoots). When I’m ready, I sit down and record the whole first half of the set.
Guess what? I actually like most of it! But I’m stunned to realize that I have misunderstood They chattered like swallows all along. I’ve been thinking of it as driven, fierce, and sweeping. As I listen to my recording while looking at the music, I don’t like what I’m hearing. My dissatisfaction is not new, but what is new is that suddenly I know everything I need to do. Slow it down (ahem, to closer to the metronome indication), and fully incorporate the implied accent on the second beat of every measure (a tie on the double-stemmed note that holds it through the next measure). Then, lighten up the accompaniment more instead of having both hands join equally in a driven sound. The texture never did support the sound I was trying to create – always a huge hint that I’m on the wrong track.
I like it so much better when I make those changes.
Now it’s time for Debussy. This is the set I am planning to play next Wednesday morning: Bruyères, from Book 2, and Le vent dans la plaine and Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir from Book 1. Poor Voiles has again been left off due to time constraints. It’s a shame, but on the bright side, it means a lot of people are prepared to play, which is good for the club.
I’m starting with Bruyères because I will start my recital with it. I’m going on to the other two because they are new, just learned and memorized at the end of August. As I’ve been practicing Bruyères, I’ve been able to get a certain warm and friendly sound that I think is just right for the piece. I’m also trying to play it in a leisurely fashion, never hurrying except in one place, measure 28. Even there, I hope to make it more of an excited crescendo than a little rush. There are only a couple of measures of pp in this piece, so I keep my foot off the left pedal.
Le vent dans la plaine has that pesky stretchy right hand figure, so I remind my hand of its secret staccato. I’m thrilled to hear that the sound is becoming more consistent. Those dastardly chords seem to be coming along, too! Phew Not that I’m planning to celebrate yet. I will probably be working on these technical issues right up to the day of the recital. That’s okay. It’s worth it, a fun piece full of great sound effects. As I practice it today, I conclude that it’s about a windy day in the winter. The four-note alternating minor 7th and half-diminished chords are the hint. All those Gb’s and Bb’s make them silvery-blue and wintry.
Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir, on the other hand, is languorous, sultry summer. Since it has received the least attention up to now, I give it a lot of attention today. I set an internal alarm so I pay close attention to every place my hands hesitate to look for the next note, or when they don’t change sound quality the moment a new motive begins. Without the alarm, it’s easy to become accustomed to little glitches, and think on some barely conscious level, “Oh, that’s just the way I play.”
I set up that recording device again, and play all three Debussy. Improving! I want to play with the pedal some more in Le vent. And I realize that while the right hand figure is less stretchy, it has also become less even. You gotta think of everything! Well, thank you, recording device, for letting me know. I’ll work on it tomorrow.
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.