Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lesson 6

More Debussy! I learned the 3rd prelude (Le vent dans la plaine) from book 1 and this is what we worked on this time. We spent some time also talking about arpeggios (arpeggi?).

1) Debussy Prelude: I used the pedal to create that wind-like effect for the accompaniment (this was discussed at our previous lesson). That was all good. In measure 3, I ws giving the first Bb staccato an emphasis but I was told not to do that as the melody really only starts with the 32nd note (Eb). I was asked to use firmer fingers for the downward cascade of chords in m9-12 as I was too loose (and hence got a sloppy sound). That suggestion immediately set that part right.

On the second page, I had difficulty with hitting the left hand notes of m16 (Gb and Bbb) accurately. The hands tangle up there and are in quite an awkward position. I was playing the left hand above the right hand there and so that angle wasn't working for the top notes of the left hand. A simple suggestion from the teacher worked wonders: "slip the L.H thumb underneath the R.H 2nd finger since that 2nd finger isn't playing any of the notes there". I am now able to play that part fairly accurately. I employ similar strategies throughout in such awkward situations and that works well to solve angle and position issues.

We spent some time on page 4 as this was something I had learned since the last lesson. The problem identified here was that the melody I played with my left hand in m36 wasn't as clean as what I played in m44. He had me play m44 first, followed by m36. I couldn't get them to sound the same. I went back home and tried working on it and found that my fingering was the issue there. I had adopted a fingering that I thought was the easier one but the fingering given in the Henle actually started working well with some effort. This was when I again started tucking fingers underneath inactive fingers of the other hand. So I'm happy to say that I've solved most of my technical difficulties on that page as well (at least in concept.. just needs some more practice (repetitions) before I get where I want to be with that).

Crescendos like the one in m37 should be honored. So there should be a rise and then a fall.. and then a rise again through those chromatic figures.

We then spent some time on m49. I was making too much of a bump in the sound there trying to execute those small cresendos in the left hand. He made me practice that leaving out the left hand top notes.

Final measure: let pedal go to clear out the notes from the previous bar (except the Bb that is held) and reapply pedal for a final solitary bass Bb to end the piece (since a huge rest is notated in the treble clef!).

2) We then talked about the last page of the Chopin waltz from the previous lesson. He asked me to use rotation to give the music better shape. It was sounding more like a machine gun rather than sensible groups of notes. So I was asked to practice those descending figures towards the end employing just rotation and playing just the important transition notes. I need to find the time to do that. We then talked about that final arpeggio. I had practiced this at home. So when I played it after he demonstrated the concept of getting the wrist and arm to lead the fingers, I did it (almost) to perfection. He was impressed and remarked "Either you are a genius or I am". I replied "I practiced that at home.. so before we decide if I'm a genius, let me try to ascending arpeggio because I haven't practiced that". So I played the ascending arpeggio.. it took me a few trials before I could get the optimal sound. When we were later discussing something else, he suddenly remarked "Btw, I've decided that you are the genius". I think he was half joking :P (of course), but I'll consider it a compliment regardless of whether he was serious or not! I'm no genius of course, but then, who is? I really believe that hard work is what makes geniuses. If there are genetic predispositions, I believe that hard work can overcome (or greatly enhance) that such that it ceases to matter after a while.

3) I finally played a iittle bit of the Brahms Op.118/2 Intermezzo in A. He asked me to play it more freely. He loved the p-pp transition (when the theme is repeated in the beginning). He suggested that I further amplify that effect by using the una corda pedal. We will start with this when we meet next. I'm still working on the 3rd page, just a couple more measures to go before I've learned all the notes to it.

When listening to classical music, I'm rarely moved (as in, rarely does a piece of music make me feel genuinely sad, or genuinely ecstatic, etc) but I do recognize the emotional ups and downs that the music intends to convey. However, Brahms is one composer who goes that extra bit and actually moves me. The first time I had goosebumps listening to music was when a family friend (Philip uncle) first gave me a cd to listen to. That had an orchestral version of Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu. I had never heard anything like it before. That was my introduction to listening to classical music (I was already playing the piano at that time but my teacher or those around me never told me that I should also listen to classical music!).

The second time I had goosebumps listening to music was probably when friends took away my classical music cds and replaced them with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. So the first time I listened to the Floyd album "The Wall", I had goosebumps.

The third time that I recall getting goosebumps from music was last year. I sang tenor in the OSU Symphonic Choir. It was our first practice session with the conductor Marshall Haddock. Something that he did suddenly made me more aware of my singing and of the entire music. This was the Brahms German Requiem, a MAJESTIC composition. I remember almost being moved to tears while singing it.

Anyway, all I meant to say is Brahms is great! Singing off, signing off now..

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lesson 5

We've settled on a fixed time for lessons now. Every other Monday at 4pm. Regular lessons are what I missed all these years and I'm glad to have that finally! We looked at some Bartok, Debussy and Chopin today:

1) Bartok: Stamping Dance from Mikrokosmos (book 5).

My left hand was too percussive. My teacher wanted me to play it as though cellos were playing it. The very act of thinking instrumentally changed the sound of it. I used a little bit of pedal to create longer cello like sounds for the left hand. The character changes when the left hand goes to slurs in the second line. They need to be individual slurred figures (pairs). Towards the end of the first section, the last couple of accents need to be REALLY accented. The tempo can go down a bit (broaden) to emphasize that accent some more (pochiss. allarg.).

In the "Un poco piu mosso" section, towards the end, it needs to keep growing until it hits the sff. If the forte section right before the sff doesn't grow, it will actually seem like its going down (when the sff comes in). I had learned the rhythm wrong starting at the sff. That section is also slightly tricky in that I need to pay careful attention to the gradual slowing down (poco a poco ritard.) as well as the diminuendo to make sure that the "Meno mosso" section isn't an abrupt change in tempo. It needs to feel integrated and organic.

The staccatos in the Meno mosso section are pick-ups and need to be light (imagine the leg starting off pointed in the opposite direction before stepping in a certain direction in a dance..similarly, the staccato is the first preparatory motion, not a motion of its own). This section also needs to be more playful and light. The accelerando needs to be well conducted and it should absolutely be spirited in the piu mosso final section. (Teacher: "The fingers shouldn't lead the musician, it should be the other way round"). That is how such a "stomp" dance might end (on a high).

2) Debussy Prelude (Book 1, No. 3: Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir): I had read through half the piece but was already facing technical difficulties in some parts and so I decided to consult my teacher on some of those. I played through it and he liked what he heard.

When playing the left hand accompaniment, I had started out dry but on getting to the second page, I resorted to using the pedal a little. He asked to me to do the same at the beginning because it was too dry without the pedal. The other important thing, as always, is to breathe before the melody enters in the second line. So remember to breathe musically!

The descending celesta like chords at the end of page 1 need to be played with flat fingers and that had an immediate effect on the sound there, I could play it exactly as I wanted to. Most of my technical issues were on the second page, with awkward tangled finger positions. MEasure 21 especially was problematic. He suggested a different fingering (from the one suggested in Henle Urtext). After working on it a bit, I think I can work with the suggested fingering in the book. It needs more work before I'm comfortable with that measure though.

We then spent some time on practicing the contrary leaps in measure 28 (and thereon). The key is to keep the left (and right) hand moving in. So the D flat in the left hand is just a passing tone that can be played by the second finger (as suggested in the book) as the hand moves smoothly across inwards. To practice this, first forget that D flat and just practice the two hands leaping inwards from outside so that the left hand is taught how to move smoothly and without a break. Then incorporate that D flat with the left hand second finger as the left hand takes a smooth uninterrupted trajectory inwards.

3) Chopin Waltz in E minor (Op. posth): I have been working on this for a long time now and I'm still not happy with it. So I decided get some guidance from my teacher. These were his comments:

The introduction needs to build up and then not fizz out but climax in measure 8 on a full blown forte. I had not paid enough attention to building that up. Then, as always BREATHE before the grazioso waltz begins. He liked most of it, except for the E major part (starting measure 57). It needs to be much more graceful. I could take the tempo a notch down. "Take me out to the garden before taking me back to the dance floor" is how my teacher described this part to me. It still needs a basic pulse of course, but it can be much more graceful and relaxed. Make sure you hear the B's (e.g: measure 58). A nice legato in m. 59 (and similar measures).

Again, BREATHE before the ff section begins. Note correction in m.75. I had always been aware of that different note that I had heard in recordings but I had always played the urtext. However, this other version sounds more interesting, so I've decided to play that instead and my teacher told me what notes they were. (Urtext is the boring G# -> c#, the other version is G#A#C#F# (what chord is this?) --> c#).

Breathe in 80..pause, and gracefully play the rest. Make sure you breathe in measure 108 too right before the beginning of the build-up to climax.

Finally, the E minor arpeggio. He gave me a and accurate! The trick is to use the wrist to lead the fingers. So the wrist now points to the left and the entire arm keeps moving to the left while the fingers (though slanted now because of the angle that the wrist makes) play the arpeggio real fast. Its hard to explain this in words, I'll probably update this section with a video demo some time.

I was also asked to remind him to talk to me more about arpeggios at the beginning of the next lesson. Targets for next lesson: finish learning the Debussy prelude, maybe also finish learning the Brahms Intermezzo (118/2) and that should give us enough to talk about next lesson.