Saturday, March 15, 2008

Playing Mozart

My guitar lessons are going well, I am progressing by leaps and bounds.

After 2 months of lessons, I am now working an a Carcassi Etude which I will perform in a student recital in the beginning of April.

But, as I predicted for myself, I am now at the stage where I am acutely aware that my "musicality," which has been very expensively developed by years of classical musical training, is vastly NOT matched by my technical ability on the guitar.

I know how the piece SHOULD be played. But I have to accept that in the next couple weeks, the most I can achieve is producing a clean performance - all the correct notes, no incorrect ones, and, more or less, in the appropriate tempo. But a clean performance is hardly a GOOD performance.

This has made me think of when I studied piano. My piano teacher introduced certain pieces to me when she judged that I had sufficient technical ability, and had me revisit them at regular intervals. She had me first play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata when I was 11. I worked on the piece and was eventually able to produce a clean version of it. But it was only as practice, never for performance.

She had me revisit it at 13 and I performed it then.

At 16, I worked on it again. And although it was indisputable that I was a far more capable pianist at that point, with greater technical proficiency and deeper emotional expressiveness, my teacher's reply when I asked if I would perform it was: "Let me think about that. No." I think if she had been less measured in her response, she would have phrased it differently, "Hell no."

The bottom line was that I was a near prodigy when I was younger, but I peaked at 12, and while I kept progressing, the rate of that progress had slowed measurably, and by 16, I was merely average when compared to the pool of young pianists who were my peers.

In my last few years studying piano, I focused almost exclusively on practicing and performing Bach and Chopin - two vastly different composers. I was most proficient at Bach. His almost mathematical precision lent itself well to my strengths and my performances of Bach were not only clean, but also GOOD. But I enjoyed playing Chopin (and Schubert) much more - and I performed those pieces with a certain romantic, over-the-top quality which played well with audiences. I NEVER played or performed Mozart. Mozart requires all the technical precision of Bach, but also an ability to emote with restraint and delicacy. And restraint and delicacy have never been my strong suits.

Every year, my piano teacher would have all of her students perform in her student recital, and the final performance of the recital was always reserved for her best student. I was not her best student. There was another girl who had far better pedal work than I. SHE was able to play Mozart beautifully. But I held that coveted final position for years. Why? My teacher phrased it this way: "She's better than you are. But you ham it up. I can't let anyone follow you. It's not good, I don't like it, but what can I do?"

With my current guitar playing sparking this self-indulgent walk down memory lane, it has occurred to me that perhaps I need to do the life equivalent of learning to play Mozart.

But first, I will play Carcassi at this student recital, hamming it up for JF, DP, JD, et al, in the audience - JF in particular has promised to shriek wildly and pull out his hair and maybe even pee a little, no matter what I end up doing on stage, even (or especially) if it involves ping pong balls.

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