“…a dream barely remembered that disappeared back to the body.” Linda Hogan

February 8, 2016

I am getting ready for a concert, practicing daily and have performed all the music for audiences at least twice. A couple of passages have often caused trouble, which was irritating given the amount of time and effort went into learning them. During one piece* it finally occurred to me today that I could breathe a little bit before beginning one the next phrase. Just a little bit. It was in a section that was quite boisterous, my favourite part in fact that features a ragtime, syncopated phrase that has the drive of the Glenn Miller horn section. If the passage was really played by horns they would have to breathe so I tried that today. There is a tendency in energetic sections to keep up the momentum and not rest. For people hearing it for the first time that little tenth of a second is unnoticeable yet vital. A short rest gives the ear and mind time to catch up [or close down] before being carried away by the music again.

In another piece there was a truncated phrase in the slow introduction. It had been shortened during an edit and involves a surprise cadence that has thus far been unsatisfying to play in public. Now that I think about it, the shortening of the phrase increased the energy flow, which was wrong so close to the beginning. Offsetting the increased energy by slowing down more, the music can breathe before continuing. The result is more satisfying and the piece soon builds into an energetic Baião.** There was no need to rush, it amazes me how much learning is required just to play my own music.

At this stage of work the main challenge is keeping the music fresh, with the repetitions it is so very easy to get distracted. I am reminded of outtakes from a Meryl Streep movie where we saw the actress altering the delivery of lines with each take so the text stayed fresh. I keep reminding myself to think about each phrase differently, to find other ways to manage the energy flow. Having heard every note thousands of times, it is easy to understate phrases, and rush through them. It is vital play them as if hearing them for the first time and not fall into patterns.

At times these days I play so softly that my eyes open to assure myself that my fingers are in the right places. Released from the habit of effort, my attention to phrasing has to be intensified. The term I like to use is re-investment, the only way to keep getting better.
• *Appalachian Blue
• ** Carrè St. Anne

When Nasrudin’s wife insisted that they should get a cow to enjoy fresh milk every morning, Nasrudin always refused, because the barn was too small. His wife persisted until Nasrudin gave in. and they bought a cow. They brought the cow home and found there was not enough space for them both. When the cow was lying down, the donkey had to stand and when the donkey was lying down, the cow had to stand. Nasrudin was upset that his beloved donkey was uncomfortable all night long. “Almighty” he prayed, “If you take the cow, my wife won’t pester me any more and my donkey would have the barn all to himself.”
Next morning when the Nasrudin entered the barn, he found his donkey lying dead.
“ Sublime Almighty,” he said to the heavens, “don't be upset with me, but after all these years, can't you tell a cow from a donkey!”