Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twenty-sixth 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, Oct. 22; running the whole recital, appreciation practice
When I get up this morning I know what I need to do, and it terrifies me. I need to run the recital. I feel so daunted by this that, early in the morning, I write Carol a whiny email saying basically, “Do I have to?” She responds generously that she can’t tell me what I have to do, but surely I could find an hour and a half to run the recital, and then an hour more to touch things up. She gently encourages me – “You can do it.”
I doubt that an hour will be sufficient for me to touch up whatever I need to address after running my program, but I have also calculated how much time it will take to run it, and concluded that it is childish to use time as an excuse to avoid the run-through.
I do it.
It’s awful. Miserable. I’m nervous and shaky, and the Beethoven sounds especially weak. As I’m playing, I do not experience total immersion. Instead, I debate whether I should take the Pastorale off the program. I would still be left with 24 minutes of Debussy and 29 minutes of Janáček. Yes, I have this debate while I am playing the Beethoven. No, I do not recommend this kind of thought process while practicing to perform, or while practicing in any way for that matter.
I soldier on and play the Janáček, which I now regard as my bosom buddy on the program. Suddenly I realize what the Janáček has the Beethoven does not. And I realize I can give that to the Beethoven, and my life will change. What I have given the Janáček is tender loving care for every note, and appreciation practice. You wouldn’t think I would need appreciation practice for one of the great works of art pianists have the privilege to have in our repertoire. But there it is. When I first learned the Beethoven, I did appreciation practice galore. Every minute I practiced it was appreciation practice. Unfortunately, the technical and musical challenges have gradually taken up all my Pastorale brain space and shoved appreciation aside. But no problem! I would be happy to stop worrying about all the challenges and do appreciation practice instead.
The tender-loving-care-for-every-note practice is physical as well as emotional and mental. I have a very particular feeling in my body when I fully commit to every note. My ear feels directly connected to my fingertips, and my whole body, from finger to toes, is committed to each note. My forearm and hand are comfortably rested on every note, and my upper arm and torso respond so each hand is always where it needs to be to play each note without tension. I feel like I know just how much effort and movement I need to make every sound I want. The movement is so free and focused that the resulting sound is rich and golden, and every note can be different from the last and the next.
If you’re wondering why I don’t permanently play in such a lovely state, I can tell you two reasons. One is that I have to become pretty comfortable with a piece to be able to give tender loving care to every note in tempo. The other is that, well, I get distracted. Is the accompaniment soft enough, is the bass supporting without booming, is the tempo steady, are the scales solid and reliable? I seem to have to go through a period in which I’m answering those questions rather than concentrating on tender loving care for every note.
However! After running the whole program and coming to this realization, I eagerly practice the Beethoven, and it’s easy to give tender loving care to every note! And it sounds, and feels, so much better! Worlds apart from the first run. I don’t know what this tender loving care is doing to my tempo, so I turn on my recording device and play the first and second movements. Nice! I guess I won’t drop the Beethoven from the program :-).
So. I had to haul myself, kicking and screaming, to the piano to run through my program, and it was an awful experience. But doing it made me realize just how I needed to practice the Beethoven to bring out the beauty of the piece and my love for it.
It was worth 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.