Two Clichés and a Question

It’s a cliché in teaching that every student is different. But how chancey it is that we encounter the differences! In the fifth year of our working together—but it could as easily have been the sixth, or the first, or never—my piano student Shanti Rao, a Ph.D. candidate in physics, happened to say while playing, “Of course, I’m seeing the piano from all angles as I play. You do the same thing, Jim.”  

“Stop playing!” I said. “Say that again!” He said, “I see the pedal mechanism from underneath looking up, and the action from the other end, looking back at the hammers, and so on; all in 3D. You must do the same thing.”

I exclaimed, “I wish! But I bet it helps you think about gravity waves.”

“Oh, yes,” he said.

Another student—Wonjin Jang, a grad student in computer science—had a different “difference.” When he played pieces by Chopin and Schumann, it was not too surprising that the Schumann was less good. Chopin “lies well in the hands,” as we say, while the Schumann was awkward, as Schumann often is. Plus, Wonjin specially loved Chopin. In an experimental mood, I did something I’d never done before and have never done since: used a pencil to block out Schumann’s name on the score and print “Chopin” instead. When I invited him to play the Schumann again. he played it as well as the real Chopin! We stared at each other and burst out laughing.

Then we did the reverse on the other score, blocking out “Chopin” and writing “Schumann” instead. And what do you think? He still played the Chopin as well as he had at first! So maybe this trick works only in the positive direction. (I wish we had more such.)


Another cliché says that half of piano study and piano playing is psychology. Sometimes I think it’s more than half.


Question: What composer is your Chopin? What composer is your Schumann?

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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