Thursday, February 08, 2007

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!

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