Melody, Phrasing, and…Tension?

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a recital held at the local university.  It featured music for duo piano and other piano collaborations.  It is always an interesting night when I attend events such as these.  I knew many of the performers and was delighted to be able to support them and all their work.

There were some very wonderful moments.  However, there were some things that I noticed that concerned me. Some of these things I see every time I see students play – at least lately.  I wonder what is happening within our piano community that is encouraging these issues that arise in so many pianists.  Not every pianist is impacted and these things can be so easily overcome.  Are we as educators consciously turning our heads and ignoring some big red flags?

The biggest thing that I have been noticing is the high amount of tension that is so visible during performances.  Playing the piano should be natural.  The piano is simply an extension of the body and should be treated as such. Often a student can accomplish the right movements away from the piano and then he sits at the piano and the wrists lock and the arms and shoulders become tight.  What can we do to help our students become more relaxed and act more naturally when playing this beast of an instrument?

Something else that really stood out to me was the loss of the melody and phrasing.  Tonight it seemed as if the technical issues overshadowed the artistic ideas available.  Do we and our students get so bogged down by the “hard parts” of pieces that we lose sight of what is really the point of the piece?  There were definite parts of certain pieces where I was not sure where the melody lay.  It made my soul a little sad.

I really do not want to go into detail with everything I heard.  There were some moments that the lines, balance, harmony, melody, and pedaling were superb and I celebrate those.  It is hard work to get a solo piece ready and when playing in a collaboration, double or triple that number.  So, I do celebrate and say my congratulations to every pianist that performed tonight.  Performing can be challenging and you handled every thing thrown at you with grace and fortitude.  I am proud of you and look forward to seeing what progress you make by  next semester.

Peace and Best Wishes,

The Mad Pianist