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. 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.
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!