Friday, May 8, 2009

Piano Playing - III

[Clara Weick Schuman - a most amazing pianist and woman]

In the book I'm still reading, Wilson, says the question that started his piano playing and his research into the neurobiology of music making was "How can she play so fast?" about his daughter at her recital. My father's question was, "How can you find the right keys?" Wilson writes much about the brain and music but so far and from future chapter titles, doesn't deal with that question. Anyone who does a repetitive manual job probably uses the same mental abilities. Typists, for instance, may have soinernalized the QUERTY keyboard that they can't say where a certain letter is but their fingers know. Also like the speed the speed of piano playing, typists too [I've typed nearly as long as played the piano] have certain letter sequences "in" their fingers. Pianists have turns and trills, scales and arpeggios "in" their fingers. Likewise to type "the" or "and" or "ing" does not require thought.

The piano keyboard is larger, of course, and organ keyboards are astonishingly complex -- and require pedal use skills too. Musicians learn these things and never have to think about them. I've long ago stopped thinking about putting my thumb on middle C as I first learned nor do I think where my hands go on a typewriter or computer keyboard unless it's a new one with a slightly different configuration.

However all the physiology in Wilson's book is beginning to bore me. I'm skipping through much of it but taking to heart his insistence that music uses many sectors of the brain and it is not exclusively a right brain activity. All humans have the brain skills to make music, largely it's a matter of practice. And practice is just what I have to do now to regain skills I've lost. I am self-consciously aware that my neighbors can hear me so when I stop and go over and over difficult passages, I play very softly. There's a Schubert Arpeggio that is, like so much of his music, breathtakingly beautiful in places [when played correctly] but his writing is so full of incidental sharps and flats it has to be worked out carefully. The sound has to become a part of what I expect as I play. And I have to know where the musical line is going in each of the variations.

A friend, Ellen, has a keyboard in her small NYC apartment which she can play using earphones so only she hears it. That was a very wise choice; I wish I had thought of it some time ago. But I've got an ordinary piano and life-long self-consciousness about my musical shortcomings. I've always known how little I know. After studying with Wayne as an adult, I am even more aware of all I don't know and that I will never be a good pianist, just a competent one who can make herself very, very happy went melodies like so much of Schubert and Mozart actually are produced by my fingers.

AA consolation I am aware most people know less than I do about how these pieces of music are supposed to sound. Most people are easily impressed by others skills when it's something they are not proficient at. So most of my accidental audience are somewhat ignorant of my incompetence and I'm sure they are also living their lives and not paying close attention. So I tell myself: get over it already! Aren't I too old to be a shrinking violet?

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