Day 154 – March 3rd – Playing Slowly

I can’t admit to having done terribly much practice today, only about three hours. After a gloomy, wet morning, the spring sun can out and was beckoning me outside. I went for a run after lunch, and did the whole loop round to the church, up into Hastingleigh and back to Elmsted. For weeks now I’ve been on the lookout for daffodils, and up in Hastingleigh one or two are just starting to flower. There are great banks of green stalks poised and ready, so very soon there will be a sea of little yellow trumpets. The sights of daffodils evokes really strong memories of my childhood here in England, and I’m excited to see them all flowering again. The others probably think my enthusiasm is a bit crazy!

Rather than play through all the technical exercises at speed, I decided to back off the pace today and work through fewer things really slowly. Trevor always advocates learning things quickly. His preferred method for the Andersen studies is learning small fragments at the correct tempo and then putting them together, rather than learning the notes slowly and then increasing the speed. I can see the logic in this – we’re working on sightreading and musicality at the same time as learning the notes, whereas slow note bashing can often sound rather wooden.

However, today I was playing through technical exercises that I know I can play much faster. I wanted to refocus a bit on sound, and on playing strong, clean notes rather than always sitting on the edge of what I can manage. I wanted to have time to notice things about my playing. The exercise worked; while I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of technical work, I really enjoyed the practice.

What did I notice?

I noticed that my sound, though rather varied of late, has become much bigger. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether it’s going backwards and becoming less focused, but now I think that might be part of the process of it opening out a bit more. I noticed that I’m still tending to cover the embouchure hole more that I should in the low register, particularly when I’m descending from something higher. I think this feels safe and produces something that sounds big from my perspective, but sounds weaker to a listener.

I also noticed that my fingers feel cleaner when I play slowly. I don’t lift them as high as six months ago, nor do I move them about nearly as much when they’re in the air. I noticed that my sensitivity to intonation had improved a lot, thought it’s still not where I’d like it to be. I still tend to think of out of tune notes as having a different colour rather than sharp or flat – which is probably why I often struggle with identifying them as either sharp or flat to correct! However, I also noticed that I’m intrinsically correcting them more, probably because the tendencies of certain notes have been drilled in so consistently!

It’s definitely a different sort of practice to what I’ve been doing lately, and one that I think needs to happen more often. If not here, then when I have some time after Trevor’s course. It’s also much more intensive in its own way, and I found that my concentration wavered after only fifteen or twenty minutes. Plenty to think on!

Day 129 – February 6th – Playing expressively

Quite a lot to write about what with yesterday’s trip up to London and class today, but now that I’ve spent a while on my review of the LSO concert it’s late again. I’ll try to keep things brief, get a good night’s sleep, and then write a longer post tomorrow!

Yesterday’s masterclass with Emily Beynon was really interesting, as much for just hearing some different musical opinions and ways of explaining things. It reminded me that I’m probably suffering a bit from Trevor fatigue, as in such an intensive environment his is the only voice giving feedback week after week. Emily Beynon talked a lot about musical story and character, and was adamant that every performer have a strong narrative in their mind for a piece. She wanted to be convinced by every note they played, and encouraged them to express their musical ideas verbally. I found her description of dynamics, vibrato and colour as being totally separate sliding dials quite useful.

Class today was back to Trevor, and as always had its ups and downs. As usual, I had a ‘solo’ turn at the warm-up tune, which Trevor made me play again and again asking me to ‘make a crescendo’. I was so tied up in the notes (yes, I got nervous again) that it took me several goes to get a suitable crescendo going. The thing that frustrated me was that he could see I was nervous, that that was the reason I couldn’t get notes and expression happening together, and yet he kept pushing. Clearly it’s all good training for more stressful future situations.

My rhythms in the first two movements of Dvorak 8 weren’t quite as solid as I’d though, and I earned a telling-off for totally re-composing the start of the solo in the second movement! Once I’d sorted the rhythms, though, I played expressively and eared some ‘very good’s here and there. Of the two repertoire pieces, I ended up playing the Gaubert¬†Madrigal,¬†which was also pronounced “some of the best you’ve played recently”. I still felt like a nervous wreck afterwards though, so calming down in class is very much a top priority.