I am still in search of that elusive “it” that sets the professional pianist apart from the amateur. This is something I’ve been mulling over for the better part of the last year. I am more and more convinced that it has much to do with intention.
The amateur performer relies to some degree on chance. She knows that preparation is important and spends many hours practicing, but there is always an element of unknowing – Will my hands make that leap accurately? Will I express at the keyboard exactly what is in my heart? Will I remember the notes in that difficult section? Will I start the piece too fast and watch it fall apart? Conversely, it seems that the professional approaches practice sessions quite differently. Instead of hoping things will turn out well 4 out of 5 times, she plans for things to turn out well. There is intentionality in the practice: If a phrase is not executed perfectly in practice, she will work on it, either through much repetition or through thoughtful problem-solving, or a combination of the two, until it can be executed perfectly every time. This takes an incredible amount of patience, focus, and discipline.
I am continuing to work on the repertoire from my recent CD release. (Music is never really “done;” there is always something an artist can improve on.) As late as this morning, I found that I had been practicing some wrong notes (horrors!).
The first song of my Ginastera set, the Creole Dances Opus 15, is slow and beautiful and wretchedly exposed. I question every phrase, every nuance, and every color of every note. The piece is a dance and should have a dance-like, lilting quality to it. But I don’t want it to be taken too literally - there should be some vague dreamy qualities as well. It is marked pianissimo, so it should be played quietly, but I also want it to sing. There are so many contradictions within the 90-second dance. Every decision is important. Everything “counts” because it is so exposed. As I play, I think I am over-analyzing, and I throw everything out the window and just play as beautifully as I can. But then, did I let loose too much? Some notes stick out at the expense of others, and other notes don’t sing as they should. The beginning of one phrase was taken too fast, and there should be more breathing room before going on to the next phrase. I play back the recording I made on my iPhone; it sounded better when I was playing it live! The recording forces me to listen objectively, away from the piano, and to consider what worked and what didn’t. I return to the piano to work more deliberately, slowly, and with greater intention.