This content is from Cori's February 2023 Newsletter. If you would like to receive her newsletters in your inbox, click to subscribe here.
"The mountains are calling and I must go." John Muir
Well, maybe not the mountains exactly, but the redwoods! My family and I spent last week in the bay area enjoying a rental house nestled in the California redwoods. Beautiful homes peek out amongst these awe-inspiring trees. Just a short 10-minute walk "through the neighborhood" brought my girls and I to a series of three small "wells" and then a waterfall! I found myself trying to imagine what it must be like to be a full-time resident in this area. Would I get any work done at all?! The call of the woods, fresh air, and easy walking trails is just too enticing. At any rate, it made for a memorable vacation, and we all appreciated the slower pace amongst such beauty.
Finding “Hope” in the Works of J.S. Bach
Here is a wonderful article exploring the theme of hope in the music of J.S. Bach. Of particular note is Bach's use of chorale tunes in the final "Chaconne" movement of his famous Partita for Violin. I love this piece, which has been transcribed for piano, and I hope to bring it back into my fingers in the near future!
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
"Going slow to go fast" is so antithetical to my impatient nature! But slowing down to analyze a piece before, or while, studying at the keyboard really does produce better, more secure performances. This article explains how to engage your mind learning a new piece.
Below is an excerpt from Chopin's Scherzo in Bb minor, Op. 31. I was practicing this today - a piece from my college days that I am reworking (and re-memorizing!). It is tempting to just plow through and play what I remember using muscle memory, but I know that is not reliable under the pressure of performance, so I am forcing myself to slow down and secure small sections by focusing on key centers and consciously noticing patterns.
Here, you'll see that I found that the left hand moves down the scale in octaves for eight measures, which is very helpful - because the jump from beat one to beat two in each measure is the same note - just an octave higher. If I can remember the starting note (Bb), I should be able to get through this passage! :) The intervals in the third beat lie nicely in the left hand, as is so wonderfully common with Chopin, but as extra insurance I will need to block (combine) the notes from the second and third beats to better understand harmonically where he is going.
The right-hand octave melody is not only singable, but to find the starting pitch of each eighth-triplet set, I can connect it to the preceding octave by noticing that in the first measure it is a minor third above, then the third measure is a step above, then the fifth measure a minor third above, then the seventh measure is a step above. Cool, isn't it?
This kind of work is helpful in the initial memory phase. I admit that I do not always think this way in performance, especially when the piece is flying by at a fast tempo! However, there are times when I need to focus my attention on more than just communicating a beautiful melody or admiring the sound (!), and instead talk myself through a passage like this: ("B-flat, minor third, A-flat, step," etc.). It seems a bit sterile, but it is life-saving to have these things to hang onto when my attention starts to wander in performance!
Around the Web
And going even slower...Perhaps this is a technique those of you in retirement can try: How to Begin a New Piece.
More on approaching practicing as an investment in future performances. The last suggestion, keeping a practice diary, is one I use often!
Pianists pursue so many different career paths. Here is "A Short Essay on the Life of a Pianist."
There is a new show in the UK called "The Piano" that sounds intriguing - something like "The Voice" for pianists. I wonder if it will ever end up airing here?