Nicole Dieker is writing this before she records the Mozart, and has no idea yet how it’s going to turn out.

I don’t know if you’ve gotten to read RW’s comment on the different types of memorization, but 1) you should and 2) here’s an excerpt:

In a martial art I used to do, first I learnt the shape of the kata, and then the detail of the kata and then the feeling behind the kata. And maybe one and two are memorisation, but then how does that explain the gap between knowing what I should be able to do, and being able to make my body move in the way that I wanted? The feeling behind the kata is something more intuitive, and related to understanding (memorising?) the application of the kata, but not quite the same.

I recently started reading Charles Rosen’s Piano Notes, and he describes a similar process — first you do the “where do fingers go” work, then you solve the technical problems, and then you begin to turn the piece into music.

That last part is intuitive, though it is also based on skill; knowing how a specific gesture translates to the audience, for example, both in terms of “how it changes the shape of the musical phrase” and “how your body language contributes to the musical experience.”

So.

I mean, yes.

But.

The trouble I’m having right now, especially with my 30-minute Mozart sonata, is sustaining the music-making through the entire piece of music.

It takes a lot of effort to play something, not only in the technical sense but also in the “feeling behind the kata” sense — you might remember that a while ago I wrote a blog post about the idea that you have to practice playing, and that’s what I keep trying to do with Mozart K332 and that’s what I keep not completely doing.

I’ll start out playing — that is, I’ll start out trying to make music, create an experience for the listener, draw a line from Mozart to me to you, make sure you hear every note as it is played, manipulate each element until it becomes magical, etc. etc. etc..

Then, without even realizing it, I’ll drop out. My hands will keep going, because the music is technically memorized (emphasis on technically), but I’ll have started thinking about something other than the experience I’m trying to create.

In some cases, I won’t be thinking about anything at all; the old “I just drove home without noticing or remembering any part of the drive” thing.

And the thing is that THE AUDIENCE CAN TELL.

I know, because they’ve told me.

So I’m working on stamina right now — and since I like to show my work, here is the second movement of Mozart K332:

A few notes (pun always, always intended):

  • Yes, that skirt is vintage.
  • I picked this movement to record because it was the shortest, and because I was hoping that I would successfully be able to sustain my music-making focus for the entire piece.
  • I did the full-body recording (as opposed to my usual method of recording in which I put my phone directly on the piano) to see if there was any difference in my posture, gestures, etc. between moments of strong focus and moments of weaker/absent focus.
  • There does not appear to be any significant physical difference between my strongest and weakest focus moments. In fact, there were only about four seconds in which I considered myself “unfocused,” and I dare you to find them.
  • That said, the performance seems to lean more towards focus maintenance than it does towards play. I’m having a very intense time, as you can probably tell.
  • I do think I was successful at “playing the music as if I wanted to create an experience.” I was about to say that I thought I was successful at actually creating that experience but you’ll have to tell me if that’s true (since the only thing that’s real between two people, including performers and audience members, is what they create together)
  • There are two technical errors, which you can probably find without my daring you to, and I know exactly why I made both of them. Each time, I was focusing on something besides “playing the ornament as cleanly as possible,” and since those two problems aren’t fully solved yet, my brain wasn’t able to provide the Level 2 Memorization required to execute the ornaments accurately.

That said, I’m very happy with what today’s performance is — and very interested to see where I could take this sonata over the next month or so, as I continue to work memorization, problem-solving, specificity, focus, experience-making, and play. ❤️

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