Sunday, January 11, 2009


Time to dust off the keys and avail myself of *uggggh* practice. I will admit, my practice has suffered for the last several months. Call it ennui, or just plain drudgery, but an incident over the holidays transformed my opinion about practicing.

Pandora radio. Yep. Like Pandora's infamous box of ancient Greek mythology I peered into the radio box, and pulled out this gem, and was immediately possessed by the spirit of Bach. Which is saying a lot, since I have always found Bach to be intimidating and somewhat beyond my ken. But there I sat, totally transfixed, as if hearing J. S. Bach for the very first time in my life.

Actually, I had a terrible misconception growing up about classical music, and perhaps it was because of the way I was taught. I started off as a piano student with Anna Magdalena's notebook and progressed to Beethoven and then to Schumann and the other oh so romantic composers, then went forth to Debussy and Ravel....chronologically. Now this may or may not be a good way to teach piano, but this is how I learned, and not exactly how I teach. By the time I quit taking piano lessons, I had barely breached Bach's 2 part Inventions. I could only play one or two of them....badly. And so, for nearly 25 years, I have lingered outside the Bach clubhouse, thinking myself either too incapable of playing anything more than Anna Magdalena's charming girlish pieces or not insane enough to try anything harder. I am no better with Handel or Scarlatti.

But this year is different. We are living in interesting times. Playing the piano can now be considered an act of cultural rebellion. Playing classical music in the faces of those sons of Allah, who hates music and has forbidden his minions from ever enjoying it is the ultimate act of defiance. The tastiest of infidelicacies, if you will.

And why is Murray Perahia's playing of Bach's English Suites so vastly better and completely different from Glenn Gould's or Keith Jarrett's Listen:

English Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807/I. Prélude (Instrumental) - Murray Perahia

The even more amazing thing about this recording is this bit of information via Wikipedia:

Injury and later career

In 1990, Perahia suffered a cut to his right thumb, which became septic. He took antibiotics for this condition, but they affected his health.[1] In 1992, his career was threatened by a bone abnormality in his hand causing inflammation requiring several years away from the keyboard, and a series of surgeries. During that time, he says, he found solace through studying the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. After being given the all-clear, he produced in the late nineties a series of award-winning recordings of Bach's keyboard works, most notably a cornerstone rendition of the Goldberg variations. This has caused him to be regarded as a latter-day Bach specialist.

He has since made recordings of Chopin's etudes, and of Schubert's late piano sonatas. He is currently editing a new Urtext edition of Beethoven's piano sonatas.

Besides his solo career, he is active in chamber music and appears regularly with the Guarneri and Budapest Quartets. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra, with which he records and performs.[4]

On March 8, 2004, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom made him an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire.

In early 2005, Perahia's hand problem recurred, prompting him to withdraw from the concert stage on the advice of his doctors. He cancelled several appearances at London's Barbican as well as a ten-city national tour in the United States, but has returned in fine form with recitals in German cities in 2006 and at the Barbican in April 2007. In the autumn of 2007 he completed a triumphant 10 city tour of the United States and conducted master classes in Salt Lake City, but was forced to cancel activities during the first half of 2008. He returned to the platform in August 2008 touring with the Concertgebouw Orchestra under the direction of Bernhard Haitink, and is on a Asian recital tour in October and November. New recordings of Bach partitas and Beethoven sonatas have been issued in 2008.

Owing to his hand problem and on the advice of his doctor, Perahia recently cancelled a tour in the United States with The Academy of St.-Martin-in-the-Fields (March and April 2008). Other recent cancellations include: The Barbican Music Event

He will be, hopefully appearing in London at this event this year in February.

So what has this got to do with me? A complete change of mind, in regards to Bach, and the belief that I could never play his music. In the Greek New Testament it is called Metanoia or a repentance. But moreover, it means changing the mind. Think metamorphosis, and you'll get it.

How to practice. Also, a complete change of habits. But where to get help in advancing my playing abilities?

Enter Alan Fraser with the Craft of Piano Playing

While on the surface this would seem technical, boring and dry, the moment I put into play the demonstrations, my hands seemed to fly! So I bought the DVD. This isn't about scales, trills, and ornamentation, though goodness knows I could use whatever help with that I can get. It is about learning something that I was too damn scared to play. And being willing to change how I play. That is the exciting part. Another book I have, which I downloaded for free at the website, though you can buy it spiral bound from Amazon, is Chuan Chang's Fundamentals of Piano Practice, and this book has also been of tremendous help where learning how to move from an intermediate level of play to an advanced level is concerned. My only complaint is that you have a lot of abbreviations to remember, but its counterintuitiveness is key in pushing yourself forward and not relying on bad practice habits. Also, thanks to my brother-in-law
Greg Richter, for telling me about Walter Gieseking. His methods of memorization I have used and passed on to my students.

I have decided to rework, according to the principles set forth in these learning materials my whole practice routine. If you are a musician, and would like to share here in the comments your frustrations and conquests, when it comes to practicing, please feel free to do so. I'm stoked.
I am also registered as Scherzophrenic over at the PianoWorld's forums.

If I can, I will try to keep a record of my progress. Here is the handy new tool that I am going to get, and the price is just right!


  1. thanks....very interesting!!

  2. The challenge for me, Babbazee is actually sitting down and using a metronome and clock again. I really have to go into the wayback machine to undo alot of bad habits.

  3. Jewel,

    Perahia completely changed the way I listen to classical music, especially Bach. There's not a piano player alive or dead that can play like him. Thanks for sharing the info.

  4. Wow! I wonder if the man has groupies, heh. What was the work he played that changed how you listen to classical music? I know that for me it was the English Suite 2, but I since have his Schumann's Papillons and Beethoven's Appassionato, Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, and a couple of other pieces I haven't heard yet. Watching him play is like watching Christ suffer, I swear. He is completely in the music as he plays it. If you get a chance to listen to Ilana Vered, go to her website. She is also brilliant, in a ferocious way. Her Rachmaninov performances are not like any I have ever heard. And she has such a joie de vivre about her playing, it is simply infectious to watch her and listen to her. I am glad you weren't bored by the topic.

  5. What totally changed me was his Bach Keyboard Concertos Nos 1, 2, & 4. I also like his versions of Scarlatti. I do wonder if there are in fact classical piano groupies. How would they dress?!

    Classical music is kind of a strange thing for me. I listen to it on the radio while driving. I find myself buying something I heard, and then I end up spending way too much money on an artist. Thank heavens for the used section of Amazon.

    I've never tired of the classics. They just never get old. I too played a few of Bach's inventions before I quit the piano for horses. I never had a talent for creating music.

    I live in a rural "fly over" state that has too many CW stations. I swear nothing will vacate me from the feed store faster than that gooey modern CW music. If they just played a little Scarlatti I'd buy a couple saddles, a pick-up bed liner, and a new gun rack.

  6. Amen to all of the above, sistah! When I was about 12 and getting my horesmoning and all that, I used to run home from school (1 block away) at lunch time, risking detention and a paddling, just to listen to Brahms' 3rd Symphony. I was hooked on Brahms from an early age, and managed to play with a certain degree of competency a number of intermezzi and one rhapsody, but this year, I am going for the Big B in the 3 Bs. Tonight, for the first time, I played the left hand solidly on both Praeludio 2 and Fuga in C minor, after warming up with Praeludio 1 in C (the Ave Maria) My mindset is to play them each time as though I hadn't ever played them before. It is taxing, and I start to deteriorate after about a half hour, and it annoys the kids. So I need to keep it for the days that they are in school.
    But I agree. One thing I like about Amazon is their preview feature, and you can listen to a number of artists perform the same piece if you just type the name of the piece in the search bar. I will have to listen to the Perahia Version of Bach's Keyboard Concertos. I have Glenn Gould's French Suites, which are lovely, but often, I have heard over hyped recordings where the piano sounds just awful, tinny and untuned, and his damn humming interferes. I didn't get that too much on the French Suites, but listening to Perahia do the English suites is marvelous. Reading along with the music is satisfying, too, like hearing a narrator with a good voice reading your favorite book.

  7. Well, I'm miles late to this posting. Oh, well.

    I'll have to look into these materials. Fortunately, my last piano instructor was excellent with regard to technique and making the keys sing.

    For a long stretch of five years, I couldn't practice at all because of wrist surgery. When I finally got back to the keys, I started with the Hanon exercises. They worked magic for me.

  8. I used to like the Hanon, but have since just gone to using the interventions and well-tempered clavier. I highly recommend Chang's Fundamentals of Piano Practice. Every page is chock fulla meaty advice and knowledge. Chang has a very useful take on Hanon and its DETRIMENTAL effects on piano playing. Well worth the read.


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