Playing With Wolfgang: Random & Awkward Redeemed
I remember a feeling of complete frustration and incomprehension. It happened frequently during my undergraduate years. But two incidents really stand out from the rest. The music? Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca and the central section of the Rachmaninoff G# Minor Prelude.
I learned the scores but was never able to make music from them. Everything seemed unconnected—totally illogical. I guess you could say that, for me, the two pieces were both awkward and random. The reason? I think it was no preparation for the style, technical requirements, practice strategies, and more. I arrived at University with plenty of theory, choral, and piano reading skills and little classical piano background whatsoever.
Much later in life, I studied Liszt’s Waldesrauschen and Gnomenreigen. I loved them. They were not awkward or random. By that time I had caught up to those skills I didn’t have earlier because I had learned them through mastering elementary and intermediate teaching repertoire.
An exciting thing began to happen. I would look at a passage I was teaching and connect it to a passage from my own repertoire. Many times I would say to a student. Do you know why you need to do this thing just so? So you can do this one day! And, I would play the passage from my repertoire and we would talk a bit about it.
The cool thing was, I found I could do this from the earliest levels on. I began to think backwards—to see skills and concepts as they directly related to repertoire of all levels and styles. I realized that elementary level teaching was not just about notation. Elements of technique and style were also present in elementary books and repertoire that were crucial for success at the intermediate level and beyond.
When I began to compose and arrange using songs and idioms from around the world, I found myself drawing inspiration from piano repertoire. Taiko and Fue borrows some of Messiaen’s drums from Prophets, Shepherds, and Magi. Ti Oh Oh is set as though it was a part of Satie’s Enfantines.
You are still wondering about that Rachmaninoff G# Minor Prelude aren’t you? I’ve been working on a new Christmas collection this summer. The lovely, haunting And The Trees Do Moan from Appalachia simply was that prelude from the moment I heard it. Of course, it is in mixed D Dorian/Minor and the patterns and chromatics are intermediate level appropriate.
So thanks Franz and Sergei and an early Merry Christmas to you!
(And, yes the collection will be available for purchase this fall in time for the holiday playing and teaching season)