Thursday, October 30, 2008

Playing boldly

Sawtooth and Monica have already heard this, so y'all go on while I catch everyone else up on the most recent piano lesson I learned.

I'm trying to record a clean take of Ombre. By "clean" I mean relatively error-free. That's all. It doesn't have to be musically expressive... I assume that will come some day. You haven't heard any of my Ombre recordings yet. There's good reason for this. I haven't been able to play it acceptably. As you've heard from my Limbo recordings, I'm not against posting something in a less than totally polished state. So the fact that I've not posted an Ombre recording should suggest to you the problems I am having with it. Lots of problems.

So the other day, I did something I've not done in months. I fired up the iPod, and tried to keep up with a recording. This was a stunning exercise. My observations, as I recall them, in the order they came to me.

1. "His (that is, Einaudi's) tempo is all over the place!"

Ombre starts out with 8 bars' worth of whole notes. I thought I had developed a pretty good feel for the timing of these notes, until I tried to play them in unison with the recording. Surprisingly, I wasn't able to stay with the recording, even when counting. Out loud. Like the beginning music student that I am.

It didn't take long to figure out what was happening. legato ed espressivo. Einaudi had taken liberties with the written notes, and went with whatever tempo his internal metronome suggested. This became more obvious when the music turned to 8th notes, and those were played unevenly. While I had tried to play the 8th notes straight up, he sped up and slowed down between (and even within) measures. As a result, his version (natch) sounds much more expressive, musically, than the robotic, calculated notes I had grown accustomed to playing.

2. "Oh, wow, that's fast."

I looked up Andante in Wikipedia. "Walking pace", it says.

I can dial in a number on the Ap-200's metronome, and matched it to the approximate tempo of Einaudi's recording. I learned that his version of Andante is about 15 beats per minute faster than mine. Whoops. Then when you factor the ebbs and flows in his tempo, it makes it very hard to play along with his recording.

On the other hand, he's the composer, he's the professional pianist, and I am a software technical sales geek trying to teach himself how to play piano. So between the two of us, who's more likely to be doing this correctly?*

* - "But aw2pp", I hear you say, "you're entitled to your own interpretation!" To which I say, "Poppycock!"** Once I am far enough along to actually choose to interpret a piece in multiple ways, I will then evaluate which of those I like best. For now, scrambling furiously just to play the notes (and not quite succeeding even at that) does not qualify as an interpretation.

** - I have a good memory for these things. As far as I can recall, that is the first time I have ever used that word. And almost certainly the last, unless it's to order up some of this. Glad you were here to enjoy this moment with me.

3. "Wow, the dynamic says p (piano signifying quiet), but when he jumps into the right hand, it's more like f (forte, or loud)."

It had never before occurred to me that two hands could be playing at a different volume. It's not that I had thought you couldn't do this... I had just never given the question any thought. In retrospect, how silly of me. Different instruments in an orchestra can play at different volumes. The instrument playing the melody had better rise above the supporting players. Why would this be any different when playing the piano?

Let me stop here and say, this turned out to be a really liberating discovery. Not to steal my own thunder, but the main point I took from this exercise was to play boldly. I had been trying to play this piece quietly, at least at the beginning, but the result was not so much a quiet and peaceful sound, but rather a timid, halting, uncertain one. Playing the right hand with bold certainty is actually much, much easier than trying to keep things quiet and mellow.

But I get ahead of myself.

4. That break around midway through (measures 49-52) make a great time to readjust music sheets.

Nothing Earth-shattering here. But one of my few complaints about the Ap-200 is that the music desk can only accomodate about 3 and a half pages of sheet music at a time. Ombre is 5 pages long. Problem solved. If you ever get to see a Youtube of me playing this, you'll get a kick out of seeing me furiously scramble to get everything set up for the second half, during a time in the music which would otherwise seem quiet and peaceful.

5. Wow, that's loud.

The second half then begins mf (mezzoforte, or "medium-strong"). Einaudi's mezzoforte is my fortissimo. Again, I assume he's right about this.

6. And yet, his way is actually easier.

And this is the big lesson I learned. Even though he played a very different version of Ombre than the one I had been trying (unsuccessfully) to teach myself, I picked up on it very quickly. The third time through, I made it the whole way through, pretty much keeping up with him, with just a few errors. My mind didn't have the luxury of playing (well, plodding) slowly, carefully, and indecisively. Who has time for that at 90-something beats per minute? My hands (especially the left hand) don't have time to measure the next octave / jump. They need to go. NOW! Once I reached that point, it was much, MUCH easier.

And a heck of a lot of fun.

I had one more observation about the interplay of resonances on the loud, booming, sustained low notes at the end. There was a whole new character of sound brought on by playing those like they were supposed to be played. But I need to make more sense of it before I say anything more on it.

Recital recordings are due in two weeks.

1 comment:

sawtooth said...

Good Luck. It sounds like you are having much fun and making great progress playing the piece. I had a really hard time getting "I Due Fiumi" recorded cleanly for the first recital. Your hands are usually shaking the first time you get done with a good take which makes it hard to actually get a good take. :)

As a side note, even though I like the tempo of my recital piece from his concert CD I actually ended up at the tempo of the recording on the regular album. It's a whole 15 seconds faster. To top if off, the speed increase happened at some point when I stopped playing it for two days. I had no idea I was playing it faster until I transferred my good take to my computer and saw where the recording stopped. I was shocked. The funny thing was that I had told myself earlier that I liked the slower tempo better since I thought there was no way it was going to reach the other tempo of the song. However, I have a very hard time trying to play it at the slower tempo now without speeding up at some point during the song. And as you've found out it can be hard to try and use a metronome with Einaudi's pieces since the tempo varies and there are usually pauses in the music that will throw off your attempt. I've not tried playing to the tracks yet though. I should try that some day.