Playing With Wolfgang: A Little Un-Coordination (plus a bonus)
Early in my college career, I was working on the Bach Toccata in E Minor and getting totally frustrated. I watched my fellow students breeze through their Bach. I was raised as a card carrying Lutheran and teethed on Bach. I had certainly sung plenty of cantatas in my early years.
So why was I so uncoordinated that I couldn’t play the stuff? I knew all the notes and how each voice worked together, but would get so tangled that I felt like the proverbial centipede who, upon thinking about it, suddenly couldn’t get his legs to work.
I threw up my hands at my lesson one week and complained that I was completely un-coordinated. And, that’s when it happened.
“You’re not un-coordinated. That’s not the trouble at all,” said my teacher. “The problem is, you’re too coordinated.”
Too coordinated? A revelation! I needed to feel the differences and not be afraid of them. I still needed to feel the sameness and center into it but be able to feel the underlying gestures come together, move apart, and come back together again.
I was reminded of all this as I was listening to the current episode of From the Top. Young violinist, Adé Williams was describing a lesson with Rodney Friend. He asked her to describe what made music sound good. She gave the expected answers which, since she is a violinist, included vibrato.
He told her “No, it’s the color inside the vibrato.” Her reaction? “That’s so awesome! I don’t know what you’re talking about!!” It all came down to being too coordinated—to controlling the speed of the bow and the speed of the vibrato rather than making them the same by default.
I didn’t know what my teacher was talking about either. It took me many years to really learn what he meant. But my outburst that day and his kind response changed me and set me along a new path. I gradually learned to think about all aspects of playing—pedaling, gesture, dynamics in terms of coordination vs. non-coordination.
I learned that being un-coordinated can be a good thing.
BONUS! (for UK readers and those nearby)
For a chance to win 2 tickets to the event below, simply email “Labèque, Piano Addict” to firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday 3 October.
The Labèque Way
Sun 6 Oct – Ciné Lumière (London) Followed by a Q&A with the director
A beautiful documentary, produced by Pedro Almodóvar’s El Deseo, benefiting from Cábez’s talent, Baricco’s sensuous writing, appearances by friends and collaborators such as Sir Simon Rattle and Semyon Bichkov, and the Labèque sisters’ amazing performances. The legendary piano duo constituted by the French sisters Katia and Marielle Labèque goes beyond the boundaries between both classic and avant-garde music, and between European countries. Cábez follows the sisters through London, Valladolid and Rome by way of a letter sent to them by Italian writer Alessandro Baricco – a letter that marvels at their rapport, their ability to avoid labels and, of course, their prodigious talent.