Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lesson 1 (A new beginning)

I started lessons with a new teacher on my birthday. He is a Juilliard graduate and was a student of Nadia Reisenberg (whose teacher was the great Josef Hoffman). So I'm extremely proud of my newly acquired lineage! He is a professor of piano at the university.

In any event, none of that really matters.. what matters is that I loved my first lesson. The second lesson was even better. In this post, I intend to summarize my first lesson, for my own records. If you find it useful, that's even better!

I played Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV 847, WTC Book I. Here are the things I was asked to work on:

1) Sing the theme as I wanted to hear it on the piano. Then work on reproducing the exact same sound on the piano, without unwanted accents and other bumps.

2) BREATHE! Breathing musically helps in many ways. It helps the music breathe (because musical breathing extends into the playing apparatus and so actual physical breathing can in fact cause the music to breathe as well if done right). It also helps with focusing. If we focus on the breathing instead of somebody in the audience coughing, we would naturally be less distracted while playing. So there are multiple benefits.

3) Work on playing different combinations of the voices with the right fingering (of course). So in any given phrase, play the bass and the tenor together, leave out the soprano/alto. Then play just the soprano together with the tenor, then the soprano with the bass. (This is a 3 voice fugue, which is why I grouped the soprano and alto together as one voice). This would help us hear the voices much better and decide on the balance required. This is how he said his teachers at Juilliard made everybody learn fugues (I'm sure people do this everywhere, not just Juilliard) and so he is getting me to do the same thing.

4) Think in terms of a trio! Each instrument is equally important in a trio. My version of the fugue was "too right-handed". So I was asked to bring to the left hand the same kind of smooth and flowing sixteenth notes that I was doing with my right hand. When the right hand played it, it led the other voices nicely but when the same thing appeared in the left hand, it was suddenly in the background. So I needed to work on giving sufficient importance to all the three voices.

5) Prelude: He liked most of it, except the presto section which I played like a machine gun firing sixteenth notes. He got me to think of that section as smaller groups of notes. He got me to pause at the end of each group. That way, I learned to think in terms of groups and not in terms of fast individual notes. I worked on it at home and it sounds way better. Thinking in musically sensible units also helps with speed. So I'm beginning to understand that the first step towards solving a technical issue is to think musically. When you get that part right, the technique will follow (in a lot of cases). The other comment about the prelude was to emphasize the low G right before the presto section. So those were to be treated like pedal notes (in Bach's time, there were keyboard instruments that came with pedal controls that could be used to play basslines with the feet!).

That sums up the first lesson!

A note of thanks to Ms. Nina Polonsky, a highly sought after teacher in Columbus who I auditioned for. It was her recommendation that got me into this teacher's studio. I also thank her husband, a violinist, who came into the room to meet me after hearing me play. Ms. Polonsky wasn't too impressed, I think (because she has wonderfully talented students who are half my age), but her husband took a liking to me and put in a strong word for me. Though she shoo'ed him away from the room, I think that may have helped her form a positive enough opinion of my playing that she sent in a recommendation because she felt that this teacher (who had more adult students) would be more suitable for me.

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