On listening

The Inner Being of Music…. Listening

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Charles Rosen says (in his book “Piano Notes”) that pianists are unique in that they do not listen to themselves in the way that other musicians are trained to do right from the start, as they do not have to tune their instrument.

He talks about the physical involvement of piano playing being such that a pianist feels a wrong note almost before hearing it. A kinaesthetic rather than an auditory experience.

Reading this woke me up just a few days before yesterday’s Michaelmas concert on Ashburton Arts Centre.

Naturally my reaction was to disagree.

It made me grumpy!

However it pushed me to reflect.

I watch my music as a default because I’m a good sight reader. I would say that I do not memorise, although I would also acknowledge that the music on the page serves as an instant reminder of a host of patterns that are deeply embedded in my muscular memory.

So I made a decision to listen

This is where I can begin to apply my Alexander Technique and combine the stillness and wholeness of the senses that comes with the delicate balance of inner and outer worlds; with the unique pianist magic of tracking sound decay.

Once the hammer strikes the string, there is nothing further that can be done to influence the sound.

Unlike the bow across a string, or the breath in a wind instrument (where the note can be sustained or amplified) all that can happen from the moment the hammer is thrown, is for the sound to decay…. It diminishes naturally only varying with and depending on the quality of the piano.

It is like pushing a boat across the water towards the shore.

Push too hard and the boat comes to an abrupt stop.

Not enough and the boat will not quite make it.

Just enough and the boat will glide to an imperceptible merging with the water’s edge as though they have dissolved into each other.

As though the sound dissolves back into the silence from which it emerged.

It is the most beautiful plaything of exquisite subtlety.

With a heavy, slow melody, one surrounded by a cascade of faster accompanying notes, it is my job to track the sound decay of the melody note and match the volume of other notes in ever decreasing intensity so that the melody will still sing out over them…. Or at least give the illusion that it is doing so…. The brain will continue the note in its absence if it made a sufficient impression.

Today on Margaret Merrington’s intimate Blüthner, I listened.

I had all the time in the world to shape the phrases in a completely different way and to fill the space with melody.

The room and the people in it listened back, which further augmented the listening and thus we co-created the music.

No pins were dropped, but we would have heard these too.

Probably the most extraordinary, consensual moment was Janaček’s The Barn Owl has not disappeared.

I have never heard it like this.

It seemed to flutter in on ethereal wings, heedless of anything I did or didn’t do.

Perhaps feeling unwell allowed me less energy to try.

In Saturday’s Alexander class for musicians (Party in the Town) I asked about how it might be to play from the inner being. … the being, not doing, the receptive not directive aspect of the self.

Many variables came together  and I came home fulfilled and, hmm, wide awake! (It is 1.30 am and I’m still humming)

Thank you to all of you who came and helped to make it such a memorable afternoon.