Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Sitting in the Memphis airport, my ears are currently assaulted by the barrage of public announcements.  Given the fact that it's before sunrise, very few flights are leaving.  In the quietness, I have now heard the same announcement for stand-by passengers (by the way, there's only one!) repeated seven times without interruption.

As I realized how annoying this mind-numbing repetition is to me, I considered the parallels to my own musical performances.  Repetition is commonly used by composers; however, the intention is not to play the phrase exactly the same way each time.  In order to provide interest and variety, the musician should consider making slight variations to dynamics, accents, or shape in recurrences of the line.   Often the composer signals his intentions based upon the harmonic structure.

We expect the advanced pianist to make such decisions with ease.  When do we begin training young musicians to address the issue of repetition in a thoughtful manner?  As soon as possible!  In my own teaching, I spend a considerable portion of each lesson asking the student questions about the piece's structure.  Once repetition is identified, my immediate question relates to how the student will make the repeated phrases different.  If multiple options are presented, we consider which we think will be most satisfying and play it first.  Rarely do I encounter a student who does not naturally hear a plausible solution to the repetition issue;  the difficulty sometimes occurs in the execution of the repeated phrase.

As a side note, I am traveling to southern California today for a week of performances, rehearsals, and fun.  I hope to continue blogging throughout the week -- but just in case -- check back next week for more installments.