“In the three moons of winter”

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

As Autumn turns to winter, dead leaves wither on our pathways, migrating birds have headed off in search of warmer climes, insects are crawling into holes, and many animals are settling down to hibernate until the spring thaw.

In Chinese medicine and Qigong practice, the human metabolism also slows down in the Winter, and our energy can become dormant. And yet we seem to largely ignore the challenges of the season. Instead, we work and play even more frenetically than usual as we head towards the Christmas season at breakneck speed.

There is a real danger that our over-exertion in the early winter leaves us physically depleted, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and more susceptible to infection, illness and a general sense of feeling “run down”. We need to take stock…

Continue reading “In the three moons of winter”

Playing like the Winter Sun

Pause • Reflect • Sundays on Pianodao

Those looking to “catch some rays” might head for an exotic tropical beach if they can, but as I drove an early morning errand a few days ago I was struck by the purity of the winter sun blazing brightly, but low, on the horizon.

The fact that in winter months the sun is lower in the sky doesn’t change its essential nature or dim its brightness, even though cloud cover might. On a clear morning, the low angle of the sun only makes it seem brighter. Blinding, even.

The low winter sun is just as virtuosic as the blazing beast of the equator. The difference of course, is the angle of view, the more modest apex, the changed attitude towards altitude.

Piano Journey

Observing this puts me in mind of how our attitude similarly determines our view of the piano repertoire.

Some devote their piano journey to the pursuit of altitude, learning ever-harder pieces in their ascent to virtuoso prowess. Others are more content to play “for pleasure”, perhaps neither striving for the same heights, nor ignoring them. They simply enjoy a different viewpoint.

Those who devote their lives to playing the most difficult repertoire may end up doing so with great difficulty. Better, I believe, to devote ourselves to playing the most beautiful music, and playing it with great beauty.

As Albert Camus once wrote,

For Children..?

I was recently listening to a recording of Bartók’s For Children, which is not only a milestone in the pedagogic repertoire, but a special set of pieces within my personal piano journey, from the time I played them as a young learner to now teaching them to a fresh generation of students.

The recording featured one of the great modern virtuosi, who had recorded Bartók’s complete solo piano works. Astonished by his outstanding Allegro Barbaro and profound Out of Doors, I had high hopes for his insights into For Children.

But alas, those hopes were soon dashed. It rather seemed that the recordings were committed to disc for the sake of being a completist, and to better market the recorded set. Each of these detailed miniatures came and went, dashed off with a carelessness suggesting boredom.

I once heard a similarly disappointing recording of Schumann’s Album for the Young, “children’s music” casually dispatched by a concert artist on the clock, a quick job before closing the piano lid and unplugging the microphones for the day.

I play this music better than the guy on the recording. Goodness, some of the children I teach play this music better! Not because we are better pianists; we are very clearly not. We play this music better because we care about it. We play it with commitment and love.

Rising to a low point in the sky…

As a pianist, I would rather shine brightly like the winter sun than scorch the earth. I want to play music well. I want to perform it with love. I want the listener to be struck by its beauty, not simply by my own superior technique.

One of my top tips to players everywhere, and to teachers alike, is this:

Cherish the music you play.
Dazzle with the easy!
Stop thinking in terms of levels and progress;
start thinking about reaching the soul.
Play like the winter sun.

Anton Chekhov

May your piano journey brings you great contentment!

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