Tone Binds Us


"Music" as the word is used these days has little resemblance to what I am talking about when I use the word.  To me, music describes a world of potential inside of which I may, or may not, find sounds whose potency shocks, delights, or terrifies me, depending on the circumstances.
It is far from the static, easily replicated commodity that permeates every commercial environment - like the coffee shop where I met a friend this morning.  As I sat down to await her, the background produced one of the chamber repertoire's most mysterious and powerful works, the Schubert B-flat Piano Trio, a work which I have performed and studied in depth, to such an extent that I feel that I truly get it.
Having had hand surgery a few years ago there is no prospect of my ever again performing it.  As I sat there I couldn't help but notice that I was not regretting that fact, not one bit.  The simple reason is that too many professional musicians play,  as did those on the recording, without noticing the work at all.  
Notes are not music.  Not even right notes. 

Paying Attention


If you want someone to pay attention you have to give them something to pay attention to.  I heard a radio panel last night on the subject of fragmentation, short attention spans, people's unwillingness (inability?) to sit through anything longer than 45 seconds.
Doesn't anyone notice that everything that comes to us via media production sounds essentially the same?   There is no reason to pay attention to things that sound all more or less identical.
I have a friend who continually sends out links to YouTube performances.  Granted the music is always great, the performances perhaps spectacular, as he insists.  But the quality that makes the music great, or that distinguishes the performances is hardly evident on that medium.  Sorry.  
It leaves me cold.  Just as TV sound did when I was a child.  
Nothing happening.
But ring a bell, for instance......ah!



It's a tricky business.  Some people attain almost god-like status: Vladimir Horowitz, for example.  Some people attain the opposite kind of reputation: Muzio Clementi, for example.  
The other day I performed the Clementi Sonata in f minor (Op. 13, No. 6)  that I had previously deemed so bizarre as to be  unplayable.  It turns out to be nothing short of a knockout.
Imagine my surprise to find that this very sonata was played by Vladimir Horowitz who, in so doing, put Clementi onto the modern map.  Imagine! The pianist whom I would least have suspected of such audacity accomplishing this most stunning achievement!
Clementi accomplished some remarkable things about the notation of piano music - something like writing new computer code.  He figured out how to make overtone action as nearly explicit as I can imagine anyone doing.  
Overtones are some of the most powerful elements of piano sound: they would have knocked the socks off anyone alive to witness the invention of this remarkable instrument.  Other keyboard instruments of that time required other instruments to enhance overtones: cellos, violins, and other strings.
But the piano does it all by itself.
Amazing.  Continually amazing.

Timing is Internal


Are you impatient?  If so, it is probably because of the age in which you grew up.  If, like me, you were conditioned to expect rapid responses of yourself, especially to visual cues, then everything else made a demand you didn't know how to fill and thus, in your insecurity, you became impatient.
I notice when I teach kids how difficult it is for them to follow other cues than the visual. I notice, too, how it affects their sense of inner concentration, to respect the difference between the visual and the auditory, for example.
At some point the notion arose that without "form" music was not real.  Then came the MuzAp industry (nowadays called the MuzApp industry).  Suddenly if you could not identify themes A and B you were not really listening.
So much so that now, in direct protest against that idiotic notion, composers are bringing us back to the vibrancy of sound itself, getting us to really listen to sound without the intermediary of structure to distract us from paying attention.
One of the first composers to use the contrast between form and pure sound within his compositions was - hold your breath! - Muzio Clementi.  Reveling in the new sounds of the piano he figured out ways to base structures on sounds you had never heard before.  Brilliant in every respect.
Yesterday a very smart doctor (also an amateur musician) commented that refined touch was something only for the accomplished musician.  I beg to disagree.  I have based my pedagogy on the premise that every child is capable, through touch, of direct response to the richest qualities of sound.
I am talking neither about notes as written on the page, nor as piano keys.  I am talking about sound in the larger sense of the whole range of overtones, audible and not, bordering on the magical, the mysterious.
Over and over again I have seen it happen that a child, fascinated by this quality of the real and unreal combined, will do everything within their power - and it is their power that permits this to happen - to have that level of involvement with it. 
Yesterday I played for a small group of attentive people, among whom was a blind professional pianist.  Quite excited when it was over - note, I don't tell people in advance what they are hearing, only afterward - she kept wanting to know what the piece was that begins with a D major arpeggio.  
The only pieces I could have played with such figures were the Clementi Preludes with which I had started each half.  No, they were'nt it.  Then another listener suggested the Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 119, No. 1.  I would never have identified the opening as a D major arpeggio.  
First of all, it descends, F# to D, followed by B, then G.  How is that a D major triad?  
It was like a lesson in what is lacking in the way many blind people learn music:  too little of it is based on auditory respect.  
This event will haunt me.

What Comes Next?


This should be the essential question whenever we listen to music, or to anything, in fact.  All too often, however, the performer knows that we already know what comes next and that we are not paying the least attention.
A great performer never assumes the inevitability of the next whatever it is, whether a note, a rest, a change of some sort, a repeat.  It's always the first time and you have never heard it before.

Touching Sound


Can you teach touch?
The question came up last night after I played one of my in-house programs for a group that included a couple of professional pianist/teachers.  I maintain that it can be taught, and have developed techniques to accomplish just that.  The trouble starts when notation is made to correspond to keys on the piano rather than to sounds that one hears.
How do you teach kids to read without the interface of keys, of alphabets, of fingerings, of all the things that keep the ear at bay?