From a Summer Festival in New York

Tuesday, Week Two: on the fifth floor, I run into Mr. K., with whom I worked last week. He complains passionately and despairingly that he’s suddenly unable to play simple trills in Scarlatti’s “Pastorale” sonata (K.9, D minor); but adds that he can still play double trills! We move to his practice room. He sits down at the piano heaving two huge sighs. I draw his attention to them, and point out that he’s tense emotionally and physically. Yes! He hates the tension of preparing for this weekend’s competition! He hates the Scarlatti!

I tell him of my affection for it: it’s the first piece I ever played (at eight years old) that could appear on an adult program; and the first piece that impressed my dad. I suggest that K. hates not the Scarlatti but the pressure; and I point out that it’s in his power to turn his back on it. “Go play for the Inuit,” I suggest. “Too cold,” he replies. “Better the Caribbean.” He’s relaxing a bit.

I play him bits of some other Scarlattis. He likes a couple very much. (I point out that the piano’s regulation is very poor, and doesn’t make the trills easier.)

Now I ask him to play his Scarlatti; and it’s fine, and the trills are fine. Maybe there’s a missing “ending note” in one, but nothing to worry about, and especially not in the context of his extreme tension.

What score is he playing from? Some chords are fuller than in mine. He says he lost his score and is recreating it from memory!

I mention Alexander Technique as an addition to his repertoire of relaxation and control. I urge him to say to himself, “Release the neck” or “Relax the neck” in rhythm as he plays. “You have NO problem playing this trill!” I assure him as I stand up. He understands I mean it’s psychological.

And if all else fails, I say, grinning, he can scream. “No one will hear you. The halls are filled with noise.” But he did scream recently in another room, he says; and when he left, a lady in the hall recoiled from him. “Well..she has to learn sometime,” I say. This tickles his funny bone and he’s laughing hard as I wave goodbye and leave him to the work.

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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