143: Misadventures in an uneducated tango

Three weeks ago, I was positively bashing the keyboard in trying to play Ronald Barnes’ “Milonga” (the third movement in his first serenade).

Several hours ago, after I had packed some practice and made a detour to Taiwan, Jeff removed his ear protection and said (with some amusement), “Well, that was the most delicate reading I’ve heard of this piece.”

There is progress  being made – I much prefer being unheard over reminding everyone on campus that I have a enormous keyboard. But maybe, just maybe, a milonga (an “uneducated tango,” in Jeff’s words) requires a little more sass and verve.

Jeff gave me some excellent pointers for the coming weeks:

  1. Breathe. Remember to pause on section boundaries. As keyboardists, we often forget that music is singing and singing is lung expulsion. This causes us to be (sometimes) sloppy with our phrasing. Sing with your playing and your phrasing shan’t be led awry.
  2. Be a little sassy. The piece is a happy jig, not a stuffy ballroom tightrope-walk. Romp excitedly to reflect this.
  3. Barnes’ word is not absolute law. Once you have all the execution down as accurately as a MIDI reproduction, make the piece your own. Delve into composer’s intent, but remember that you have not the power to ruin a piece. You give a bad performance and the piece floats up into the wind, awaiting a worthier champion. But you have not somehow besmirched the music. (Jeff definitely has the power to say this, because he knew Barnes personally.)

In the meantime, he added, I should pick up the Barcarolle (later in the first serenade?) to fill my practice hours, given that “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” is all but ready. I may arrange another chorale – it is a pity to stop at 1 when 370 others sit idly on my desk.

A word about Gorecki

I have a personal policy to never use the skip button. Once a piece is dequeued and begins playing, it must have its full allotted floor time.

I have another personal policy to occasionally make sure that I give every item in my library a little love from time to time (with exceptions). I purchased a secondhand recording of Antoni Wit conducting Henryk Gorecki’s third symphony, having heard about its runaway popularity with the public. I found it to be just under an hour of sheer claustrophobic misery, given the above policy.

As of yesterday it has hit five plays and I still find it impossibly difficult to listen to. I simultaneously loathe and fear it like a goblin confronted with an elvish blade. I feel so trapped in a terrifyingly smooth cell forged with simple figures and huge, spacious sounds.

Immediately after, I desperately queued Rafal Blechacz playing the Polonaise in A flat major op. 53 thirteen consecutive times. I basked in the radiant joy of his playing and felt Gorecki slip away like a bad dream banished.



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