Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twenty-fifth 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/
Tuesday, October 21: shifting practice goals, more Feldenkrais adjustments
Today I am turning a corner in my practicing, and my new goal seems overwhelming. Since the recital date is coming up soon, I now feel that, instead of focusing intently on particular pieces, I should touch every note of every piece on my recital every day. I should also run substantial portions of the recital, if not the whole recital, every day. For sure, I’m going to start every day of practice with the set of Debussy preludes that will open my recital, and end every day of practice with the last movement of the Pastorale, which will end the recital.
In between, I will play everything. I don’t know why this feels so enormous. It’s only seventy-five minutes of music! And I’ve been practicing many more than seventy-five minutes most days.
I’m dreading it.
I don’t feel like the Beethoven is ready for a run-through in tempo, and I just played the Janáček yesterday for my lesson. So I start by running the Debussy set that will open my recital (Preludes 5-7 from Book 2), and proceed with playing the whole recital, slowly, looking/listening/planning ahead.
I know, I’m always bringing up the slow looking/listening/planning-ahead practice. I’ll tell you why I keep doing this kind of practice. First, my performance level rose at least three levels on the first recital for which I employed this practice technique. Then, at least three aspects of performance have changed enormously for me since I began slow looking/listening/planning-ahead practice:
- In performance, I no longer find myself in an unexpected place in the music, causing me to suddenly think, “I’m here already??”
- I am no longer surprised in performance by something I have to do next, like a sudden leap or sudden change in dynamics – because I have practiced planning ahead to make those leaps or dynamics.
- I am no longer startled into a state of confusion when my finger slips or a note comes out too loudly or softly – because I am accustomed to listening ahead, I am now much more likely to just go on.
I proceed with slow looking/listening/planning-ahead practice on every piece in my recital. I survive it all. It probably wasn’t worth all that dread! Then I touch up a few technical spots and try out a few musical ideas.
I have a Skype lesson with my Feldenkrais instructor, Sharon Oliensis. I asked her to meet so we could go over the dastardly tremolos-with-held-notes in Janáček’s Frýdek Madonna. I think she can help me get them to feel less awkward.
Sharon makes several suggestions before we find the right combination of solutions. Shifting over to my right sit bone, making sure my jaw is loose and I feel a solid core down to the seat, feeling my breath open my left shoulder get me almost there. I continue playing one of the tremolos sections incorporating these ideas, and notice that my hand and forearm are not fully balanced into the piano. Trying to maintain the other changes, I adjust my balance into the keys, and suddenly the sound is consistent, rich, and velvety. I continue for a few measures to make sure I can maintain the changes, and then I stop. I say to Sharon, “Did you hear the sound change?” Since we have already established that she can’t seem to listen while she’s watching my movements, it’s silly for me to ask. But to my surprise, Sharon says, “Just a few seconds ago, the sound suddenly caught my attention.” I told her the sequence of events – I incorporated her ideas, and then balanced my hand and forearm better into the keys, and then voilà! Better sound. We agree that it’s a sign that the sound suddenly caught her ear.
I am happy to have new ideas to work with tomorrow, and I’m also relieved to be done with my first day of practicing everything on the recital.
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.