Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wednesday's Lesson Cancelled

Yesterday, Deborah and I made the mutual decision to cancel my lesson. I've been estranged from the piano all week, and was going to need a "practice lesson" anyway. And Deborah had an unexpected schedule change. It wasn't a change that would interfere with my lesson, but it would have required her to race around and be stressed and have to hurry ... just to get home so I could have a practice lesson. And I wasn't all that crazy about the idea of the hour-long drive for a practice lesson.

We both agreed. Not worth it.

So, did I practice yesterday? NO. Why not? I worked at the bookstore, then ran four miles, then came home. My husband was home early, and it was Valentine's Day. It would be really bad form to lock myself up in the piano room when one's spouse comes home early for Valentine's Day. So I didn't practice.

And I won't get much practicing in this weekend because I'll be on the road and piano-less for most of it.

I'm not stressed about the lack of practice, though. Piano is a priority, but it isn't always the top one. And this week, my novel and my friend Jan's book (which I'm editing) have been the priorities. And piano's going to have to play second fiddle (is that a pun?) for a few more weeks, I'm afraid, until Jan's book is done.

Still, I hope to do better than I did last week. Two hours a week on this music is simply not going to cut it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Feb. 9 Practice

My February 9 practice was short and sweet. I worked only on the Liszt, playing in rhythms. Do you know how hard it is to play a piece in rhythms when the LH is even and the RH is all over the place, with 2-against-3 and later with 4-against-9? Don't worry--I'm not trying to be impeccably exact when I'm doing rhythms. And I've discovered what a *rut* I've gotten into with the Liszt. It's so beautiful, and part of me is content just to play it through, again and again, and be done with it.

But rhythms are forcing me to look at the seamy underside, at the 0's and 1's that make this piece what it is. And it's not an altogether pleasant experience.

But it's waking me up. The beauty of this piece has lulled me into a sort of sleepy complacency when I play it. I think that's why Deborah said not to play the piece through a single time this week. It is so tempting to just play it through and listen to the beautiful music.

But when I do that, I'm limiting myself, and I'm limiting this piece. I don't fully know this piece yet. Parts are still a little sloppy. I still trip up on the 4-against-9 section, though not always. My fingers may hit the right notes, but I'm not always certain that they'll do so. The slowness of the piece allows me to "fudge" as I play it. If I were to try to play it through faster than tempo, my hands would have no clue what to do.

Rhythms are forcing my hands to figure it out. They are forcing me to jump from chord to chord faster. They are forcing me to think, and then to not think and let my hands do the thinking.

Like I said, it's not the most pleasant experience. And it is most unpleasant, not being able to play through this entire piece that I love so much. But I know these less-than-pleasant exercises will yield wonderful results.

And so the rhythms continue ...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Need an Intermediate Piece

Deborah wants me to pick out an intermediate piece to start learning next week. I went to the ARCT Syllabus guide that Robert so graciously sent me and looked up all of the pieces that I considered "intermediate." They were mostly Grade 6 and Grade 7. Not intermediate enough.

I looked up my Beethoven Sonatina in G, my most recent intermediate piece. It's a Grade 3--a very early intermediate. So I'm looking for something in the Grade 4-5 category. And I'd kind of like to work on one of those pieces that everyone loves to hear--Fur Elise, Chopin's Em prelude, the Brahms waltz in Ab--all pieces I learned in junior high, but pieces that I'd like to re-learn, and learn to play well, and not like my junior-high self, whose heart wasn't in the music. And they are pieces I love, and that others love hearing as well.

Hmm. Fur Elise is Grade 7. The Chopin Prelude is Grade 8. The Brahms Waltz is Grade 8. Too advanced for an intermediate piece? I'll talk it over with Deborah.

I looked up my C# major prelude and fugue and couldn't find them at first. They're in the "Performer's ARCT." My Liszt isn't in there, but I would put it at a Grade 10, since the Consolation No. 3, which I learned in college, is a Grade 9, and is much more basic than "Standchen."

So I guess I'm better than I thought. Or more advanced, at least. But I still need an intermediate piece.

I also made a BIG realization last night as I dug through all of my old music from junior high and earlier. I found another reason that I hated piano back then. Nearly everything I learned was 20th century, mostly things like Kabalevsky and Bartok. I don't dislike either, and sometimes I really get in the mood for Bartok ... but a steady diet of it for a 13-year-old? (I can see why my teacher gave me these pieces. But I can also see why I dreaded practices and lessons both back then.)

Asheville Piano Teacher

I've titled this post "Asheville Piano Teacher" for a reason. If anyone in western NC is looking for a good piano teacher and googles "Asheville Piano Teacher," I want this blog to come up. Deborah Belcher is probably the best teacher I've ever had. My last two lessons have been quite good. I think that's partly because my practices this week were good.

I've really made strides in the fugue. I've been working exclusively in rhythms and can play the first two and a half pages at a decidedly faster tempo than my usual creeping pace. The notes are starting to feel natural (there's a joke in there somewhere, since this piece has seven sharps) to my hands. Really. I'm getting to where I don't have to think about every little movement and gesture. They're just happening. I sometimes doubted that I would ever get there.

So I played the first two pages for Deborah, and she wrote "Great Work!!!" in my piano notebook. Of course, the last four pages were stumbling and bumbling because I haven't done the intense rhythm work with them yet. But again, the gestures are feeling more and more natural.

I have a gazillion metaphors for this piece. One is the "spinning plates" metaphor. I get the RH down in a measure, then by the time I learn the LH, my hand has forgotten the RH and I have to re-learn it. Or I'll get one section down, HT, and lose it because the next section takes all of my energy. Once I learn the next section, I find that I've lost huge chunks of the sections I've already learned.

It's been frustrating because I generally have very good practicing techniques. I practice very ... intentionally. Not passively, never just running my fingers over the notes just to hear myself play. So it was a little discouraging to find that I kept "losing" things into which I'd put a lot of time and concentrated effort. Spinning plates, and the plates keep falling. But I'm slowly, slowly learning to keep more plates spinning at once.

I'm not sure what the other metaphor is. But with this piece, it's been necessary for me to go through numerous phases, over and over again, it seems. Learning the piece HS took forever--a couple of months. Then, learning it HT took a couple more months. While I was learning it HT, I got to where HS was relatively easy.

HT has taken a long, long time. I started learning it (in sections) HT back in ... oh, September or so. I worked with rhythms a little bit, but not exclusively. When I'd finally learned every section HT, I had lost the ability to play the earlier sections HT. I know, it would help to play it through once a day, but I didn't always have the time to devote to that (it took me a LONG time to play it through).

Then I learned it HT using rhythms. And now I'm learning it HT again, using rhythms again.

I've also had to take several breaks from the piece. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it apparently also makes the fingers grow nimbler.

I now have the notes in my hands, though I do still need to work the last four pages in rhythms. That will take a week or more. But Deborah said I also need to think musically, now that "just getting the notes" is no longer a hit-or-miss proposition. So I'll practice the last four pages in rhythms, thinking musically, and will also run rhythms (thinking musically) of the first two pages, but focusing most on those last four. I'm getting there. It's just taking a while.

I started to play the Liszt for her, then quit after the introductory measures and said, "Wait! I can't play this today. I forgot, I changed the fingering." She didn't even look at my new fingering. She just said, "OK. Work in rhythms on the new fingering, and do not play this piece through this week. Just work in small sections, in rhythms, thinking musically."

Then I had the choice of playing the prelude for her, or doing some fugue drills (in rhythms, thinking musically). I chose the fugue drills.

I find it hard to practice when someone is listening to me--particularly when my piano teacher is listening to me. Which is kind of silly, because piano teachers should listen to their students practice occasionally, helping them to adopt better and more rewarding practice habits. But when I started doing rhythms (thinking musically), I played them timidly. She told me how I needed to play them, and I said, "I play them fine at home. I think I'm just nervous because you're listening."

"See?" she said. "You're giving your authority away to me again." I'm really trying to get away from the "Must Please Teacher" mindset. I'm much better than I was three years ago, when I first started taking from Deborah. Much better. But there's still that pleaser of a student in me, waiting (and perhaps expecting) negative criticism.

Strange because Deborah tells me that I'm unbelievably musical and have excellent musical intuitions. I just need to keep learning to trust myself.

My scales and arps sounded great, by the way!