ELLEN PEARSON, SINGER
BLOG POST #1 - mARCH 2017
Throughout my life, a passion for music has been a constant. Particularly music for the piano. Growing up in a house with a piano played constantly by both my sister and mum, without the ability to play myself, meant that my dreams of playing Chopin and Rachmaninoff were realised in several secret, stabbing performances of the only thing I could play on the piano: the left hand of the Bond theme. (Composed of three notes, but you would be surprised by the vigour with which I gave my performance) Any attempts at lessons from my sister finished with a mutual frustration at my incapability to multitask, and a begrudged return to the role of page turner. Although many would be discouraged, and simply abandon the irrational hope for talent to bestow itself upon them; I did not. I continued to steal my sister’s piano scores and trace the stave with my fingers while listening to every single note, (my special favourite being the Rach 3) and hoping that one day my two hands would move together in harmony. So, when asked to undertake a challenge for my Arts Award with the Canterbury Festival, I chose to start learning the piano.
My first lesson with my lovely piano teacher was, in one word, rewarding. It felt natural to play, even if I was simply playing a five note scale on both hands. I later sight read the right and left hand of Melodie by Schumann (a grade one piece so perhaps my extreme self-satisfaction was overkill). Of course when my amazing teacher played the piece with both hands in perfect synchronisation and with the childish wonderment that Schumann intended for the piece; he brought it to life. His dramatic playing as well as each new nugget of information or anecdote gave my lesson such excitement, and every correction made me eagerly anticipate improving.
Watching my teacher play a section of the Grieg piano concerto to illustrate the need for movement of the elbows really gave me the sense that I was in the presence of greatness and I started to feel that I was finally on the way to achieving one of my lifelong dreams. Years of watching Benjamin Zander talk about ‘one cheek playing’, watching Shine and believing the skill of playing piano to be an unattainable, magical gift bestowed upon the lucky had led to this important moment of playing scales!
In the days that followed, I foresaw a parallel between my initial ecstatic piano practise and my first job. My first job as a dish washer began with overexcited scrubbing of each dish, and a constant humming joy in unblocking the plug holes clogged with soggy bread. Then, predictably, as the shifts got longer, and the amount of soggy bread increased; I lost a good proportion of that enthusiasm. This was my worry for the progress of my piano practise. But, with the challenges of synchronising my two weak hands, as well as the different fingering, needless to mention: the notes; I found myself occupied in perfecting my playing. Hours went by of playing the same phrases repeatedly. For many more skilled pianists, this could sound rather dull – but due to my rather lacking virtuosic talent, I was absolutely content.
My weeks filled with endless revision for A levels and repetitive practise of violin and voice are suddenly rendered more exciting by everything learning to play the piano is teaching me about music, but also about life. Taking the leap of playing a phrase without staring at the keys intently and believing that you can play two different parts at the same time gives you confidence. The act of playing two parts at the same time requires such empathy with the piano, and gives you a real connection with the melodic intention of the composer! Even at Grade One, I have learnt that breathing life into your piano playing is achieved by performing with emotion. (Until recently I had applied the need for emotion in performance to only my singing, but I now realise that music is only really great when the notes on the stave lift off to convey a deeper message).
So please, I implore you: take piano lessons for your musical understanding, for a new perspective on beauty and because EVERYONE CAN TRY WITH ENOUGH CONFIDENCE and ENOUGH PASSION FOR THE MUSIC! (I initially wrote ‘everyone can play’ but I may disprove that statement yet! I’ll keep you posted)
While it is easy for me to wax lyrical about my experience, I still can’t play the whole of Melodie hands together: so back to practise for me and I’ll let you know when I finally get booked for Carnegie!
A book recommendation on the subject of piano: Play it again! By Alan Rusbridger (Former editor of the Guardian challenges himself to learn Ballade in G minor [composed by Chopin] in one year)
I’m currently reading: The Trial by Franz Kafka
I’m currently listening to: Elegy, Op. 24 - Fauré (the recording by Emil Klein [cello] and Sorin Melinte [piano])