Piano Fits and Starts

Playing with others, have you had trouble starting together? You tilt your head up, preparing to give the signal by tilting it down. The clarinet bell goes up, and the clarinetist takes a breath. The viola neck goes up and the bow moves into position. Each motion has its own rhythm, which you’re seeing; and you’re also aware that the clarinetist’s breath is limited. It’s easy for your gesture to become uncertain and unconvincing—and the resulting attack is a mess. I don’t know if it’s more painful to have this problem or to see others having it.

Here’s an amusing and helpful experiment we did many times in our Caltech sessions, with all sorts of ensembles: Turn the players around so their backs are to each other and none can see the others. Now let the music begin! If your experience is like ours, the attacks will be fine; if not on the first try, then on the second or third. The players will feel secure, too.

This works because musicians can’t help breathing with the music; and when the visual distraction is removed, it’s easy for everyone to follow the leader’s breath. Nor should the leader breathe self-consciously. Just play the music, and the breathing will take care of itself.

When you get used to the process (it takes only a few times), return to normal playing position, and and everything should work fine.

Boyk’s Inverse: Parkinson’s Law, a bit of humor that C. Northcote Parkinson offered not completely tongue-in-cheek, said, “Work expands to fill the time allotted to it.” Trying to keep up my practicing in college, I discovered that the inverse is also true: “Work contracts so as not to overflow the time allotted to it.” If I simply took time for practicing, the work for my other studies somehow contracted, and they still got done.  

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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