The concert stage. A world-class pianist. Sublime moments of colour, emotion, subtle shades of tonal nuance. Artistry and musicianship of the highest order.
Then all is transformed. A crescendo, a moment of forte. The pianist raises his hands, lets them fall. The same for the next note... the next chord... and the next... or perhaps it’s just a vertical wrist movement. In any case, the sound is big, round, perhaps beautiful, but the musical line is lost, cut up into little pieces. Each beautiful sonority has become a local, isolated musical event.
We have a problem. This scenario is repeated time and again in piano recitals around the globe, and it is accepted – even sought after. We think it is good.
The weighted touch is taught in conservatories the world over; entire pedagogical approaches are based on it, and even as revered and gifted a pedagogue as the great, the monumental Heinrich Neuhaus, teacher of Richter, Gilels and Radu Lupu who is still alive today, falls into the trap with his equation, F = V = M x H (the Force applied to the key, that determines its Velocity, is derived from the Mass of the hand times the Height from which it falls). This equation, accurate though it is, ignores the central role of muscular activity in moving the key. Although Neuhaus later castigates the dead falling of the hand on key, he unwittingly encourages just that with this equation.
The goal of the consummate artist is not just to sound a note but to "move" the tone. This phenomenon arises when there is no blockage to movement in the pianist's body. Any falling, any muscular compression, interrupts movement in the body, and the piano's amazingly sensitive sound board will pick up on that. Sound quality deteriorates.
Intriguingly, the weighted touch arises only from mf on up to the stronger dynamics. It is amazing that high level concert pianists can be so beautifully organized physically in the softer dynamics, and then universally shift to this ergonomically inefficient way of moving the key in forte. The false perception is that weight is needed to play loud. If we could get over that illusion, our playing could evolve to new heights artistically and aesthetically. If we could perceive the cessation of movement hidden in every weighted dynamic, we would refrain from killing the musical life of our melodies, our chords.
The Feldenkrais view of human structure and function offers us the way out of this dilemma. Yes, we need to play forte, and yes, it can be done without any loss of musical line. There are many sophisticated and subtle ways of moving a key to extremely high velocities without losing balance, without reducing ones ability to move with freedom and elegance, instantaneously. The musical benefits are incalculable. Melodic grace is restored. Monumentality of full orchestral expression moves the soul once again. Polyphonic clarity intrigues the intellect. Emotion lives.
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