Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Long Distance Recitals

One of the benefits of being a relative neophyte in the collaborative arts is the constant opportunity to encounter new challenges in my profession.  I have been asked to collaborate with a close friend of mine who will be presenting his final graduate voice recital later this semester.  Rehearsals will be limited due to geographical separation;  he is working in Florida while I am currently in Arkansas.

Fortunately much of the program is comprised of chansons and American art songs that are familiar.  Despite their familiarity, there are numerous options in regard to phrasing and tempi.  In order to insure that our time together is as productive as possible, I am taking a few steps to make sure both performers are approaching the music from common ground.

First, I have asked for a CD containing performances that he is using in his own preparation.  While I generally do not like to listen to recordings when preparing a performance, in this case I see how it can be a time saver and give us both a standard performance that we can discuss via email.

Secondly, I am taking the score's metronome markings literally. There may be some fluctuation of tempo when we rehearse, but the published markings will give us both a common starting point.  For those pieces that include no metronome marking, I am listening to recordings online and sending him the metronome markings that I am rehearsing.  In both situations, he can alert me in advance if he plans to sing the work significantly faster or slower.

Lastly, I am spending time in my practice time to sing the vocal lines.  (Thankfully there are not many dogs around my piano;  the howls of horror would be rather frightening!)  This is not an attempt to achieve a high-level vocal performance on my part;  rather, it is to become intimately aware of those places where additional time may be needed for breathing.  While I may not catch them all, I will find the most obvious and be prepared to allow adequate time for the singer to reload.

How do you prepare for a recital when the soloist is not close enough to allow for rehearsals?  Fortunately, I have worked with this musician for several years and am acquainted with his preferences and musical interpretations.  I anticipate a successful recital -- and lots of fun -- as we return to the stage together.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rediscovering Bach

Like most pianists, I have spent many hours studying the works of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).  From the simple works contained in Anna Magdalena's Notebook and the two-part inventions to the preludes and fugues in the Well Tempered Clavier, I have done my fair share of works by this Baroque master.

When I performed my last graduate recital, I played the Italian Concerto and swore that I would never play another Bach piece as long as I lived.  It's not that I don't respect the composer.  Neither do I adhere to the philosophy that Baroque music should only be played on period instruments.  (In a perfect situation, period instruments are ideal, but we have to play on the instrument that is available.)  I just simply did not enjoy the music.  I'm speaking heresy to many of you now, I know.  It's just a personal preference.  I would much rather play a lovely melody of Beethoven or Faure than fight my way through the thick textures of Bach's polyphony.

This opinion was formed in childhood.  A very well-meaning teacher had me plow through all the inventions despite my complaints that I "hated this dumb music."  With a twinkle in her eye, she declared that when I got older I would finally understand just how beautiful this music is.  (She then had a gleefully wicked grin as she told me that I WOULD play the inventions now and survive!  Oh how I miss her sometimes!)

Now that I don't have a teacher sitting over my shoulder constantly lauding the glory of Bach, I am finding myself drawn to his brilliance again.  As I teach my music appreciation students, we take a look at the fugue and begin to see how intelligent a composer had to be to conceive of a well-wrought composition in this form.  So I decided that it was time to take a journey through the Well Tempered Clavier on my own and give this composer a fresh look.

I have decided to start at the very beginning (you know.....it's "a very good place to start").  The C major and C minor preludes and fugues were very familiar to me, so it didn't take very long to get through them.  They aren't performance ready, but I was anxious to get to some material with which I wasn't familiar.  Where did I find myself?  You guessed it -- face to face with the third prelude in the volume -- in C# major!  After a few deep breaths and talking myself out of quickly running away and finding another work in a more appropriate key, I dove in and began to learn this beautiful prelude.  I grumbled for a few days as I continued to miss E#'s and B#'s, but the frustration quickly passed as I began to be swept away by the harmonic beauty.  The progressions are not mind shattering on paper, but in Bach's hands the music moves to the next tonal center at the perfect moment, creating tension and release.

I'm finding myself anxious to spend some more time with Mr. Bach now.  Will I get through all the preludes and fugues this year?  I'm not sure about that......I don't want to be TOO radical.....but I do plan to spend some quality time with this composer and let the beauty of his sounds wash over my ears with a fresh attitude and approach.

Now, I really must get back to the piano......time to start learning some notes in the C# major fugue!

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Change of Scenery

The New Year is bringing about lots of change in my world.  People have made resolutions that involve dieting, de-cluttering, and professional development.  One such resolution is effecting my music these days in a very positive way.

Like many recent college graduates in this economy, work has been difficult to find.  In an effort to eliminate some expense I am living in my parents' home.  When I moved home, the only place for my piano was in the family room. Needless to say, this arrangement did not allow for much practice time when my father was anxious to watch his favorite television program in the same room.

Yesterday I rearranged things and placed the instrument in my bedroom.  My hope was to move the piano into the dining room -- a room with less traffic that would permit me to move my piano studio into my home.  Despite knowing that this is not necessarily the final arrangement, I found myself rather disappointed.  In an effort to avoid some awkward situations that arose, I found myself practicing in my room.  Surprisingly, the new location produced a very desirable sound quality from the instrument and has sparked my creativity.  I have accomplished more quality rehearsal in the past two days than I have in the past two weeks! 

Have you experienced a similar phenomenon?  Has a rearranged room or change of physical location sparked a renewed motivation or varied your interpretation of a piece in some way? 

I am enjoying my new scenery so much that I have seriously contemplated purchasing a second instrument for the dining room so I can continue to practice in the acoustical Heaven that is my bedroom.