I have a fairly new student (started last fall) who is a perfectionist. He plays with precision. Every rhythm is metronomically correct. Every dynamic is planned – even the crescendos and diminuendos are planned out. If a crescendo goes from piano to forte, he writes in his music p, mp, mf, f so he knows exactly which note will be louder. The ritardandos are planned out in a similar fashion.
All of this he does in his practice sessions at home. When he comes back to the lesson, of course the piece is solid. He definitely knows how to play the piece and what he wants to do with these gray areas.
However, the piece is lacking in musicality and joy. There is no room for spontaneity and emotion.
When I started realizing his preparedness was diminishing his joy, it was time for a talk. We talked about how great musicians play great pieces differently each time. Even composers would play their own pieces differently each time. Sometimes the hall or the piano dictates that we interpret the pieces in a different way. Sometimes our own emotions tell us to play differently. Sometimes it’s just fun to try a phrase a different way.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, that’s where the fun starts and the music-making happens. It’s great to use the road map that is the score. But the road map has limitations. How can a composer really put onto paper what we hear? We have to use symbols and agreed-upon words to try to meagerly describe how this sound happens. But it always comes up short. Every time. For music you need feeling, you need your own interpretation, you need to understand the sound journey of this piece in your own being.
And, most importantly, you need joy in the process.The joy of using your ability at the piano to say something at the piano. The joy of listening to the music you are making. The joy of the gift of music – both to yourself, the performer and to others, your audience.
I feel we only begin to understand this joy as we get older. A lot of younger students, while they enjoy lessons, might not really choose to play the piano if given that choice. It is essential in our teaching to teach joy.
Do you know that saying that we don’t really remember exactly what people say to us, but we remember how it made us feel? I would like each student to walk out of my studio door with a feeling of joy. Joy of accomplishment. Joy of discovery. Joy of having had fun.
And I hope the joy ties itself to the music and the joyful music lasts a lifetime.